At Tokyo Film Festival, 'The Old Town Girls' Fails to Rise Above the Mundane
The Old Town Girls
Director: Shen Yu
Cast: Wan Qian, Li Gengxi, Zhou Ziyue, Shi An, Pan Binlong
We have seen dozens of movies on parent-child relationship, and Tokyo Film Festival premiere, The Old Town Girls, does not, therefore, come with any great novelty, except that here you have a wayward mother who pays a heavy price before she realises what a gem of a daughter she has.
Writer-director, Shen Yu, in his debut work weaves a rather sad story of a teenager, the shy Shui Qing (Li Gengxi), who having grown up with her father is both excited and scared when her mother, the hot-tempered Qu Ting (Wan Qian), returns home after many years. The girl gets all the more uncomfortable when she realises that her mother has come back with a heavy baggage – which is both emotional and financial. Obviously, there is gnawing tension that the movie underlines exceptionally well.
There may not be many surprises in The Old Town Girls, but what is remarkable is Shui's innocence which keeps her hoping that her mother has but noble intentions. And the teenager is desperate for some kind of stability, harmony and joy, especially after the kind of raw deal she gets from her stepmother. There is a poignant scene in which we see a famished Shui returning home from school, but her stepmother asks her to stay out of the family meal.
In the midst of lurking sorrow, the director uses daylight and bright imagery for relief, and we are taken through a labyrinth of emotions which finally bind the mother and the daughter. Shui's factory-worker father's life is no less complicated, and this presents a third dimension to the plot and also serves as a reason for his placid neglect of his daughter.
The Old Town Girls is gripping in parts, but fails to rise above the mundane most of the time.
(Author, Commentator and Movie Critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Tokyo International Film Festival for several years)