Striding Into the Wind (China, 2020)
The personal is political in Wei Shujun’s debut feature, Striding Into the Wind. Inspired by Wei’s own experience as a film student, the film captures the more significant unease about the human struggle in contemporary capitalist society, both in China and all over the globe. Wei invites us to observe a snippet of the life story of Zuo Kun (Zhou You), an anti-hero protagonist who is adrift in the turmoil of youth. Kun, an older film student, is shown as having to repeat an introductory course in audio production with his fellow first-year students. The eccentric Kun looks like a dissident who is not slightly interested in the lesson when he no longer needs to attend these lectures as his skills and experience have already surpassed his lecturers. However, regulations and bureaucracy limit his ability to thrive. Kun must retake the same courses until he passes them if he wants to get a diploma and use it to work as a civil servant, just as his elders expect him to—even when he already had gotten a lot of work experience as a soundman in various film productions.
Rules and norms seem to restrain many aspects of Kun’s life. At the beginning of the story, we meet Kun trying to pass a strict driving test to get his driver’s license, when he wants to enjoy freedom, speeding in parking lots, and driving on the shoulder of the road. This clash between laws and liberty is exacerbated by the socioeconomic status of Kun’s lower-middle-class family background. He is prohibited from entering into spaces inhabited only by the wealthy. Sadly, those places are the spaces where his girlfriend works, so the relationship between the two had to end. In the tug-of-war between morality and economic needs, Striding Into the Wind shows how hypocrisy becomes an alternative path many follow. After the rebellious Kun refuses to complete his driver’s test, he still manages to show his driver’s license when a police officer stops his car. The audience is left to speculate that Kun obtained his license through bribery, common in many Asian countries. Kun’s father turns out to be a policeman, but he does not seem too concerned about Kun’s mischiefs. Meanwhile, Kun’s mother works as a teacher who provides exam questions to her private tutoring students. Kun accidentally learns about the secret transactions, takes copies of the questions, and sells them to other students, getting his mother into big trouble.
The treatment of this film is realistic and includes a homage to the filmmaking process, which in reality is far from glamorous. The storytelling process tends to be slow-burning like most arthouse films, but therein lies its strength. Instead of starting the story with Kun’s journey to find his identity in the landscape of Inner Mongolia, Wei consciously chooses to describe Kun’s world, the people around him, and the motivation behind his journey, which has just begun at the midpoint of the story. Instead, the film is told linearly and begins with Kun’s dream to escape Beijing’s crowded city life on a road trip with his friends in his secondhand jeep. Like an unforgettable memory, Kun’s trip to Inner Mongolia cannot be separated from the backstory from the film’s beginning. These mundane details gave meaning to the momentary freedom Kun finally felt in Mongolia before returning to Beijing, selling the jeep, and returning to his everyday life. Through Striding Into the Wind, we are invited to smile, be upset, reminisce about our youth, reflect on ourselves and the society around us, and question whether we have ever tasted true freedom, even if just for a while.
Striding Into the Wind is distributed in the US by Cheng Cheng Films.