‘Changfeng Town’ Is a Captivating Escape to the Countryside Soaked in Comfort and Charm
Life in the small, rural Changfeng Town is seen from the point of view of the children during the course of a summer as various intersected stories unfold.
Director: Wang Jing
Cast: Song Daiwei, Ban Ma Jia, Wei Xidi, Luo Wenqing, Chen Gang
Runtime: 125 minutes
While the longing for a childhood in a rural town is hardly relatable for most Singaporeans, the yearning for a simpler past infused in Changfeng Town 《长风镇》remains infectious. The film basks in the sleepy mood of its fictional town where the greatest disturbance comes in the forms of missing billiard balls and outside visitors. In the present context of a global pandemic and blazingly fast societal changes, the film weaves a captivating escape soaked in comfort and charm.
Divided into chapters, Changfeng Town recounts the stories of five of the town’s denizens. From the malaise of the town’s rebel Redhead (Ban Majia) to the ill-fated endeavours of the town’s dentist Doctor Liu (Wei Xidi), each tale runs almost concurrently over the course of a single summer.
It’s a small town where everyone knows each other across its handful of identifiable locations. Yet, its physical size is still not enough to accommodate the individual stories that hardly crosscuts with each other. It is here with this contrast where much of Changfeng Town’s charm lies, creating intimate vignettes of its cast that magnifies every highs and lows, hopes and disappointments, as they navigate through sets of mysterious albeit mundane circumstances.
This is further helped by how the stories start and end once characters arrive and leave the town, particularly due to the perspective of the film’s narrator, Scabby (Song Daiwei), who ties these stories together. Through his steady narration, he recounts his childhood experiences running and playing around town. It is with this perspective of innocence that evokes much of the magical surrealism that comes from the light disturbances battering the quiet town.
This comes most notably with the timelessness of the town, taken most literally with how it feels extremely difficult to nail down when the film is set. A modern airplane hangs above like an omen in a town that is seemingly stuck in the 1950s. It is here where the town’s cultural idiosyncrasies suggest a different China as well.
The rebellious Redhead dresses like a stereotypical greaser after his return from the city while American hits from the 1950s infiltrate the ostensibly Chinese backdrop. Films from across the world are mysteriously available and screened in the town’s lone cinema through a traditional projector. A strong Western influence seeps into the film’s storytelling as well, with clear inspirations from auteurs such as Truffaut and Fellini. These world-building elements offered peculiar and fascinating contrasts that double down on the film’s surrealism.
While all these suggest an easy-going pace, the film’s technical aspects instead elect for a much more rigid eye. Whether intentional or not, Changfeng Town plays out like a staged recollection where a lot of its beats feel rehearsed. Performances are sound throughout but none looked to stand out. Shots are framed beautifully but done with artificial lighting that sabotages the naturalistic, off-hand feel of its story.
The film’s structure remains its high point, with each of its five stories carefully and lovingly unveiling itself like fables. These stories shouldn’t be expected to be allegories to any greater narrative; their beauty shines in where their sole focus is on the mundane. However, it felt like this approach would have bloomed better with a shorter runtime. It is a runtime that Changfeng Town tries to justify – albeit seemingly unconfidently – with a scavenge for a larger message and purpose in the film’s last third.
While refinement would have definitely elevated the film, Changfeng Town is still a mesmerising escape into a simpler time drenched in nostalgia. The mysteries within its five stories and the film’s surprising depth in world-building would definitely keep audiences engaged and anchored through its dreamlike themes, before revealing its full potency after town’s visit ends.
Catch a glimpse of the whimsical town with the film’s trailer here:
About the Singapore Chinese Film Festival 2020
Changfeng Town will be the opening film for this year’s Singapore Chinese Film Festival. From 2 to 11 October, the eighth edition of the festival will be showcasing 33 films through a mix of physical and online screenings. For the festival’s full schedule and purchase of tickets, visit its official website at scff.sg. Follow the festival’s Facebook page for the latest updates, including details of post-screening Q&As.
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