A journey through time, leads to the unravelling of a lifetime of tension, misunderstandings and hatred, between father and son. As an addition to the many highly anticipated Chinese New Year’s movies, Duckweed announced its release, less than six months after casting news. With a sparkly cast, for idol actor fans, there was only one problem left unsolved. How could Deng Chao be Zhao Li Ying and Eddie Peng’s son? The answer lies in a near death experience that leads to time travelling. Does it sound familiar?
Chinese Title: 乘风破浪 (Ride the Wind, Break the Waves)
Director: Han Han and Zhang Hong Wei
Screenplay: Yu Meng
Release Date: January 28, 2017
Recommended For: Someone looking for an easy watch, time travel fans and fans of the cast.
Not Recommended For: People looking only for masterpieces.
Deng Chao and Xu Tai Lang
Eddie Peng as Xu Zheng Tai
Zhao Li Ying as Xiao Hua
Between parents and children, there always seem to be recognisable differences in both mindsets and ambitions. Xu Tai Lang (Deng Chao) and Xu Zheng Tai (Eddie Peng) are no different. One is set advertently on pursuing their dreams and the other on being realistic, yet also unwilling to examine the development and progression of the world around him. The death of a spouse and mother, and a 6 year period of imprisonment, adds to these complications that has driven a wedge between these men’s paternal relationship.
Xu Tai Lang’s biggest dream is to become a race car driver, but his father’s wishes for him lies in a forced and slightly abusive journey to becoming a doctor. To Tai Lang memories of a responsible father don’t exist. After his mother passed away 6 months after his birth due to postpartum depression, Tai Lang was parentless for most of his junior years, until his father was released from prison when he was 6. Whilst Zheng Tai may be the most important person and Tai Lang’s closest kin, it’s undeniable that their estranged relationship has moulded into hatred.
On the day of Tai Lang’s big break, the day he proves he has become successful as a race car driver, by winning the tournament, he invites his father to join in said joyous occasion. But Tai Lang’s intentions are not to be congratulated or to share the festive occasion, it’s to publicly humiliate his father and to show Zheng Tai that he had always been wrong.
The two embark on a car journey, with Tai Lang as driver. To showcase his abilities, he drives fast, but also recklessness around the small town, which results in a collision with a train.
Tai Lang’s life flashes before him in the ambulance ride to the hospital and he finds himself, 3 years before his birth date. As he strolls around town he runs into a thief who he chivalrously decides to chase after. When the thief takes out a knife, Tai Lang retreats, but turns around, with the thought that it should not matter, because he is already dead. This is when his father appears, in a rather comedic appearance, as the countryside batman. A fight embarks, and authorities come, but Zheng Tai has left prior. With no relevant identity, Tai Lang only can only rely on his father as the person to bail him out. In this acceptance, Tai Lang’s time slip journey begins. Will the wedge between father and son be lifted? Will he finally meet the woman, who in his memories are just a bunch of blurry pictures and a traumatic tale?
Time slip movies and dramas are not a new exploration in Chinese cinematography. Actually, for the last 5 years, we can say it’s been a little over done. Many historical novels employ it and even more dramas and movie attempt to bypass the ban. However, what makes Duckweed different from these, is its exploration of themes other than romance. The movie very intricately explores the estranged relationship between father and son, through a barrier created from a shift in generation. It’s important to note that within the last decade, China’s development and progression has been phenomenal to the extent the millennials have developed a clouded understanding and view of the past generation.
As we see, through Tai Lang’s focus on pursuing his dreams, we also see the opposite in his father, whose ambitions lays uncovered and realism plays a larger part. However, the error that lies in Zheng Tai’s vision of the world is his inability to accept the change and progression of society. Whilst it’s true, we all don’t like change, Zheng Tai’s narrow vision, is especially apparently in creating the barrier between him and China’s fast evolving nature in the last few decades. This especially bridges a communication issue between father and son, who are both so stubborn in their mindset they can’t possibly view it from each other’s perspective. Xiao Hua’s death whilst her husband was in jail, as such becomes a point of infliction to the men’s relationship. Whilst Tai Lang holds Zheng Tai irresponsible for his arrest, there lies a secret that revolves with Tai Lang’s time travel.
Travelling back to the decade in which his father’s youth shone so brightly, Tai Lang is finally able to uncover the elements that hold together the actions he hated so much about his own father. He is also able to fill the void created by not knowing his mother and he can finally forgive, forget and reconcile.
What makes the characters of Duckweed accomplished in presenting this story is their imperfections. Whilst it’s a journey to understanding, Zheng Tai is not painted as perfect. He has his imperfections, but he also means well. It’s a trait and quality we should be able to see in our own parents. The movie, makes one explore beyond the premises of the characters, by making us step back to view our own realities. The theme explores a premise, in which is easily adapted to most of today’s millennials and in its presentation through idol actors, is able to successfully present to its target audience. Whilst touching, it’s also daunting in its reality and depiction of the current youth.
In terms of acting, the cast hold their own stance significantly well. However, it also presents the gap between veteran and idol. Whilst Deng Chao is too old to play his character, his depiction, expressions and presentation of Tai Lang is remarkable. Although in the present years he has mostly been playing comedic characters with exaggerated acting, Deng Chao shows his abilities to tone down and adapt when needed. Whilst Eddie Peng and Zhao Li Ying are amongst some of the best in the current generation of idol actors, they miss a certain spark or element that Deng Chao possesses. This is not to say their acting wasn’t great, because it was. It just wasn’t exceptional. Maybe, there lies a bias in my examination, as I have always held Deng Chao in high regards.
Whilst the movie is relatively light in its first half, with a weak depiction of a gang and ‘arch enemy’, it takes a much darker turn upon the arrival of their arch enemy’s boss. Whilst it employs elements of comedy and thriller, it doesn’t over emphasise on both, hence why it fits perfectly in the genre of drama. It’s not exactly a light-hearted watch, but nor does it require ample thought. The storyline, although touching, lacks a compelling nature, and in such my ability to finish lies solely on the fact that I have free time.
Directed by Han Han, China’s most famous internet blogger and professional rally racer, the car scenes are done close to immaculately. It’s no ‘Fast and Furious’, but the car scenes are the strong point of the cinematography. Whilst not particularly jarring or annoying, the transition between cameras and scenes are a little choppy. The movie would probably have benefited with an extra month or two of editing. However, it was eager to jump on the sale numbers available for Chinese New Year’s movies, which is understandable.
It’s important to note the movie never truly delves into the reason for time travelling and nor does it explore it. There’s not all that many questions from the Tai Lang when he ends up in the past, his acceptance of it is very brief. Nor does Tai Lang try to change history or question if he will ever return to his time. Even if there are time restraints and these are all elements commonly explored in other time travel movies, it seems hard to imagine ignoring something that would perhaps have been human nature.
My lukewarm reaction to this movie, is perhaps one not extremely desirable of a reviewer, but in the collection of all my thoughts, it is what I can present you. Whilst it’s not groundbreaking in amazement, it’s not horrible either. It is certainly a breath of fresh air from the many overdone ‘Journey to the West’ adaptations and comedies often prevalent during the Lunar New Year. If you have time, or are fans of the cast and can bypass the fact that only in an alternate universe would Deng Chao really be able to pull off being Zhao Li Ying’s and Eddie Peng’s son, then I would recommend it. It’s not a story that can’t be missed, but it certainly has its charms.