One of the past year's most striking, dreamy and poetic debuts is difficult to describe in retrospect. Situated in the subtropical south-west of China, this apparently timeless story is about a countryside doctor with a prison history who sets off to look for a nephew who disappeared.
Chen Sheng is a doctor in Kaili, a village in the subtropical Chinese province of Guizhou. He sleepwalks through life until he decides to go looking for his nephew Weiwei. He promised the child's mother on her deathbed to look after the boy, but the child has been abandoned somewhere by his criminal brother. Chen is encouraged in his travel plans by an older colleague. She gives Chen a photo, a shirt and a cassette tape: memories of an old love that she wants to return to him now he is severely ill.
Director Bi Gan was himself born and bred in Kaili, an important place for the Miao, an ethnic minority in China. Bi captures Chen’s journey in his elliptical feature debut in a series of dreamlike moments. When the doctor finds himself in the mystical place Dangmai, present, past and future intermingle as if he is living his own memories in a daydream.