Seventy-Seven Days (China, 2017)

Directed by and starring Zhao Hantang, Seventy-Seven Days is based on Yang Liusong’s semi-autobiographical 2011 novel Chang Tang, Super Wasteland, which tells an ambiguous story in Tibet involving lonely hiker Yang  Liusong and a hemiplegic female voluntary worker, Lan Tian, whose name means ‘blue sky’.

Chinese-produced Tibetan cinema has some fixed narrative paradigm and strategies, notably propaganda of harmonious coexistence between the Han people and the Tibetans, paean for majestic landscape and philosophical ideas of Tibetan Buddhism, or serious thinking about their disappearing domestic culture and present residents. These can be seen in such previous films, as Feng Xiaogang’s Red River Valley (1996), Pema Tesndn’s Old Dog (2011), and Zhang Yang’s Path of The Soul (2017). However, in addition to unique and exotic history, magnificent natural scenery and mysterious regional customs, Tibet is also an adventurous and bewitching area. Tourism has reasonably become a pillar industry in Tibet, and more non-local people visit the pristine natural scenery to seek the inner peace of their heart. Meanwhile, the challenge of conquering boundless unmanned wastelands is also regarded as a fair opportunity. In Seventy-Seven Days, the original cultural divinity of the Tibetan Plateau is deconstructed. It has become the destiny of long-distance journey, a formalistic “inland paradise”. Airbnb-signed private motels and off-road vehicles are everywhere.

The film conveys its simple story about Yang (Zhao) and Lan Tian (Jiang Yiyang) via two narrative clues: Yang hikes through the inhospitable field, Chang Tang, without any supplies. The main storyline is intercut with his memories, the happy time he spends with Lan Tian, after he goes back to Lhasa for recharging (his first journey failed). The process of the story is fragmented: meeting each other, dispelling misunderstandings, falling in love, all of which is linked by voice-over from Zhao which helps the audience to sort out the non-linear plot. Compared to the original novel, the secondary characters are eliminated from the screenplay. The entire film highlights the delicate but dangerous relationship between two marginalized people (or man and nature). Yang has a depressed past about his broken family, Lan Tian is outwardly strong but inwardly weak as well. Their analogous spiritual resonance creates a resilient symbiotic relationship. They enjoy their short-lived happiness during road travel. However, it is predetermined that Yang will ultimately hike alone to cross Chang Tang as Lan Tian has to back to the motel in Lhasa.

During Yang’s second trip across the wasteland, he is troubled by starvation and exhaustion. He meets two starving wolves, but these wolves just go after him. It looks as though they are waiting for the moribund moment of Yang. During the trip, Yang saves a wolf cub in a flood that accompanies him. Unlike the relation between people, the pursuit of Yang by the wolves alludes to the competition and between mankind and nature. Yang escapes from modern society and regrows himself as a lone hiker in wasteland with a revitalized soul. The two hungry wolves not only represent the perils of nature, but also serve as motivation for Yang to move forward.

Beyond that, director uses a number of panoramic shots to portray the landscape of Chang Tang. For example, a high angle shot shows a wandering road extends to the end of the horizon. Yang moves slowly with his bicycle. A wide lens demonstrates that Yang is cycling in the wetland. The blue sky and the translucent water merge at the horizon. Before natural landscapes, the figure of Yang is likes a tiny ant, humble and insignificant. Yang pursuits freedom, but he ultimately sacrifices his happiness, love, and life. Ironically, his experience implies the kind of people who struggle for a so-called ‘freedom’ but finally they lose more than gain. Freedom has its cost.

However, the storytelling approach in Seventy-Seven Days makes it more of a mainstream feature than an example of art-house cinema. The romance between Yang and Lan Tian could happen anywhere, whether an island in the Pacific Ocean or on a space station, and the film’s potential poetry is sadly demolished by its redundant voice-over and dialogue.