Alice Wang, a Chinese teacher from Indiana, shared a clip of Our Shining Days with me and asked me how I would use it in class. After watching it, I liked it. Unlike many other youth movies in China, which often takes on the lack of sex education in Chinese tradition. They often depict hormonal driven and horny teens to engage in experiential learning of sex. As a consequences, quite few female leads, in the film, always end up with an abortion and abandonment by her lover. Tragedy!!!
Our Shining Days take on a relevant and pressing challenge: In an era of modernization, post-industrialization and globalization, it’s inevitable that many ethnic and cultural groups are losing their traditional values, practices and crafts. Trible languages and regional dialects are dying out, folklores and traditional arts are going extinct. In China, in the music field, Beijing opera has already become a part of history. Chinese traditional instruments are struggling to keep their existence under the ferocity of classical instruments.
In deed, Chinese instruments are constantly in a battle with classical instruments. So are their players.
For many Chinese, this is a battle not only about preserving traditions, but also reserving the national pride. Is there any possibility that Chinese traditional instrumentalists could defeat the impact of globalization? Even when globalization is in a disguise of the attack of classical instruments?
This is where the story starts. The outcome? Well, don’t let me spoil it for you, it is on Netflix.
- Puppy love obsession. Chen Jing, a yangqin player, has a crush on a piano player. Although, yangqin and piano share the same root, the social status and worldly acceptance between these two instruments have day and night difference. Chen Jing’s crush is the best piano player at their school. His eyes aim at getting into the best music school in the U.S.. He doesn’t want to get distracted. Any side track could prevent him to achieve his goal, he will not allow that to happen. It unfortunately includes dating and love. Especially, being loved from a low class instrument, a yangqin player. As for Chen Jing, love struck for the first time, She wants to prove her worth to him by assembling a traditional Chinese instrumental band. She wants to impress him with her yangqin performance. She goes through many hurtles to get closer to her goal one step at a time. When she finally is ready to confine her feelings to him, his treatment was cruel. Her heart-breaking experience drives her to disable the band she works so hard to put together. She wants to give up playing yangqin for the rest of her life. Well, we have all been a teenage before, we know how strongly we felt about an emotional breakup. Is there any future left for Chinese traditional instruments?
2. Xiaozong (minority) of 2 Dimension: honestly, this is the first time I heard of this term. Apparently, it’s been a popular phrase for a while. After much research, I’m not uncertain whether or not I have understood this phrase completely. I think that 2 dimension refers to a small group of people who are unique from… the majority or conventional expectations. In this perficular film, they are a group of people who are determined at pursuing their passion for Chinese traditional instruments. They are courageous at chasing their obsession of anime. They are persistent at achieving their dream – revitalizing Chinese traditional music. They are brave at portraying their uniqueness through explicit express of costumes, wigs and unconventional behaviors. That often yields misunderstanding, ridicule, demonization and physical as well as psychological abuse. However, even under trendy pressures, 2 dimension people willingly carry on the task and burden of cultural preservation. Often, it is their persistence and grit speak the loud volume and alter the outcome.
3. True friendship plus… true love! Chen Jing has a guy friend who is a drummer and called Li You. He is her side kick, partner in crime (eating hot pot illegally in a hot water dispenser and grilling BBQ with a curling iron), loyal companion and secret admirer. He is on her side through highs and lows. When she was treated with cruelty by her crush, he was the one who stood up for her. When she struggled to find a place for the band to rehearsal, he was the one who bribed the theater guard so she could continue to chase after her crush. Whenever she got into trouble, he got into troubles with her. Whenever she was punished by school authorities, he got punished as well. When she fell asleep on a bus, knocking her head on the window, he was right behind her to put his hand on her head as a cushion.
It is only then, friends become aware of his selfishless love for her. However, she has no clue. Is he ever going to confine his love to her??? Watch, then you will know.
Female lead: Chen Jing. A rather free spirit and carefree person. She is direct, funny and bold. She certainly doesn’t like to be subtle or wait around for her chance. She takes every measure to secure her love obsession. She plays yangqin, not out of love or passion. Because her mom made her to. She is so real, ordinary and sometimes… dumb… Just like you and me! Well, there is something about her which definitely is different from me. Her love confession scene was courageous and dramatic. She arranged a hundred of candles in a shape of heart, lit them all up, in the flickering flames… she stood in the middle…. Quite romantic, isn’t it? She shouted out her love publically to the piano player, but only received humiliation in return. She felt blue for a day or two, thought about quitting yangqin once for all. Then, miraculously, she bounced back emotionally and psychologically… Wow! What a hero!
Male lead: Li You. Royal, loyal, smart, funny, resilient, self-sacrificing, diplomatic, capable of problem solving… When people called him “ugly” directly to his face, his feeling was hurt a little, but it didn’t dispirit him much. When he was offered a chance to stay in the band with his idol, he chose to be on Chen Jing’s side instead. Although, that had been his dream. He is your hand warmer in a harshly cold winter… He is your popsicle on a sweaty hot summer day… He is your soft and comfy pillow on a bumpy bus ride… He is your curling iron for your BBQ… He is a character who brings so much warmth into your heart and so much laughter into your belly.
Female supporting role: Qianzhi Dawang. She is a girl who passionately loves guzheng. She works hard to improve her craft. She is a famous internet celebrity. However, she is at odds with the world and the society she is in. Not too many people really understand her, let alone to appreciate her for who she is. She escapes into a video game world to find her sovereignty. Unfortunately, people use that to against her. They are afraid of her and her associations. As they often dress up in their favorite COS (a term I actually don’t quite know.) They act as if their avatar has become alive…
Villains: school authorities and classical instrument players. They are arrogant, snobby, cold, cruel and ruthless… They all seem to have a similar personality – being a bad person. I wish the complexity of humanity could be more actually depicted in them as well.
Clown + nerd: There is also this character in the film. Unfortunately, he is portrayed as a narcissist, femine, annoying and coward gay. So much punch for being a different kind of minority in the film. Where is true acceptance for all?
Movie Talk always starts with a deep understanding of the film. Our analysis of the film directs our focus in class. I will blog the actual lessons once when I start.
Meanwhile, watch the movie and I hope you will enjoy it.