In the heat of the pandemic, back when Cannes was forced to resort to a unique “label” in order to host and represent a select handful of films to compensate for their cancelled 2020 event; a young Chinese man emerged from their selected list. Wei Shujun, a director who had been graciously accepted for his film entitled ‘Striding into the Wind’; would later screen at the BFI London Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival respectively. There seemed to be a bright future for Shujun and his meta-fables of the film industry on the horizon. As luck would have it this year, Shujun returned back to Cannes —the Director’s Fortnight sidebar— with a proper premiere. His sophomore feature Ripples of Life is yet another semi-autobiographical venture, a film specifically highlighting the trials and hellish tribulations of the pre-production process in the face of egotistical directors and ripe pretentious failure.
Unlike Striding Into The Wind — an autobiographical film which specifically focused on the aimless juvenility of film school routine — Shujun’s latest instead displays a tale about the professionalism of the industry; a deteriorating film crew hellbent on commencing their shoot amidst questionable creative differences. This time around, Shujun has one-upped his visual vocabulary. His framing is sensual, as neon and expressive colours bounce off bright lighting sources. The visuals act as a thematically relevant emulation of the work of Wong Kar-Wai, Diao Yinan, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien; visual storytelling that matches Shujun’s characters and their desperation for inspiration and personal artistic catharsis.
Divided into three unique interconnected chapters, Shujun’s reflexive & realist document of film production quarrels aptly avoids alienating his viewers, by presenting each of the chapters with a different perspective. Undoubtedly, the film’s opening act is easily its strongest; prominently due to how it’s the sole chapter out of the three in which Shujun attempts to tackle new thematic territory. His commentary on the ironic treatment of the working class on film sets; contrasted by the evolving reckoning of urban development and snobbish elites, provides a unique and refreshing angle in comparison with the other character-driven stories. The lens of a camera acts as a weapon; a target aimed to exploit its locals in a subliminal act of class hierarchy.
The other chapters, whilst undeniably entertaining and somewhat playful in its occasional moments of satire, unfortunately retread Shujun’s previously established themes and narrative motifs from his prior work. Nothing new is particularly said about the current state and legacy of Chinese cinema, where all that is particularly left is a slight albeit entertaining portrait of on-set pandemonium. Yet, there’s still commitment and prowess in nearly every frame, where the humorous portrayal of a hip-hop producing hypocritical film director is one of many hilarious footnotes in Shujun’s growing catalogue of autobiographical ruminations. As the music swells in its climactic conclusion, it seems as though both Wei Shujun and his cast of character projections have learnt a few lessons on their way to eventual success; a form of contemplation all told through a tapestry of delightful anecdotes. In other words, the power and present-day relevance of an autobiographical film has yet to cease its distinct appeal towards the evolution of contemporary cinema.