Straight to streaming

Arthouse films bypass shuttered cinemas and distribute online

Hao Lei-w

Hao Lei: Spring Tide centres on strained mother-daughter relations 

Mother-daughter ties are often complicated. As Kira Birditt from the University of Michigan puts it, they can be “the closest and most irritating” of relationships.

Last week, an arthouse movie about a particularly toxic mother-daughter combination premiered on online video site iQiyi. Spring Tide tells the story of three generations of women from the city of Changchun in Jilin. Ji Minglan (played by Taiwanese actress Elaine Jin) seems outgoing when she is with her friends but at home she is a difficult widow, estranged from her adult daughter Guo Jianbo (Hao Lei), a hardworking journalist. Guo also has a young daughter (conceived from a one-night stand). With her meagre income, the two are forced to live with Ji. Stuck in the conflict between her mother and grandmother, the young girl tries to mend their fragile relationship.

As the story unfolds, the film begins to explain Ji’s behaviour. Her husband cheated on her and after he died, she pinned her hopes on her daughter. These were disappointed when Guo became a single mother.

Guo, in turn, wreaks damage on her own child. One day, after a nasty fight with her mother, Guo takes refuge by bringing her young daughter to her office. But once the girl is asleep, the mother leaves her behind to seek solace from a man she picks up at a bar.

“Both women, like many wives who are upset with their husbands, turned their unhappiness into cynicism and bitterness toward their daughters. These are some very raw and conflicting emotions at play,” ThePaper.cn wrote.

On Douban, the film and TV review site, the film has a strong rating of 7.2 out of 10, although many viewers admitted that Spring Tide wasn’t easy to watch. “This is a film about pain. Everyone in the film is in pain or trying to stop the pain. But in the end, no one knows exactly what they are fighting about – each other or fate,” one critic wrote.

Made by the documentary maker and feature filmmaker Yang Lina, Spring Tide won the Audience Award at the 2019 FIRST International Film Festival in Beijing. Through the portrayal of the relationships, Yang says she wants to explore the lives of women born in different eras of Chinese history.

“From a macro perspective, this is actually a story about three generations of women. Whether or not it is a story of resistance, of fighting, or love, it is a story about the world of women in China today. As a film, we see their fate, we care about their future and we understand their difficulties. I think this is what makes a good female film,” she told Movie1958, a film blog.

The indie offering has been a surprising hit on iQiyi, where it has been ranking first or second in the movie category. Spring Tide is also the fifth film to opt for online release in China, instead of waiting for cinemas to reopen.

Kuaishou, a short-video site, has just released another arthouse film The Empty Nest on its rival platform, which raises the question of whether the online streaming sites might be helpful in bringing about a new era for indie filmmakers. Traditionally they have had trouble getting play time at cinemas. “Generally speaking, a film’s release period is around 30 days. However, given the limited audience for arthouse films, it is hard for such movies to secure the most coveted time slots on the schedule. It is even harder to reach fans in lower-tier cities, which mostly show blockbuster films. So showing indie films on online video platforms turns out to be the best choice for this genre,” reckons Tencent Entertainment, an online news site.

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