Film review: Spring Tide at Glasgow Film Festival

Spring Tide is an unforgettable journey through the lives of an ordinary family, offering itself as nothing short of beautiful.

9 mins read

Yang Lina’s Spring Tide is a dazzling, emotive tale of motherhood and familial dynamics.

The enthralling film revolves around the lives of three generations of strong-willed Chinese women, all living within one household.

There are three central characters in the film: Minglan, the overbearing, undermining patriarchy of the family, who continuously finds faults within her daughter; Jianbo, an investigative journalist who ignores her mother’s critiques via silence, avoidance and rare physical fightbacks (such as putting her cigarette out in her mother’s food, and purposely flooding the house whilst her mother leads her choir practice), and who seems to be somewhat absent in her mothering duties of daughter; and Wanting, who has a fiery and sometimes insolent personality, and is constantly thrusted into the middle of her grandmother and mother’s constant frictions and tensions.

Spring Tide operates as a looking glass into the lives of these three women, and the ways in which they malfunction as a family. It is a film that is character driven rather than plot oriented. It is a film which is not trying to be cinematically perfect and sound, but rather, aims to be raw and real. It most certainly is.

Over the course of the film’s two hour run, we are given more depth into these three women, learning  their pasts, their traumas, and how they communicate with one another, all the while following their ever-continuing tension that growingly simmers throughout the film.

Having already received a handful of awards, Spring Tide certainly held high expectations for itself, and I can say wholeheartedly that it met these expectations significantly.   

All great films are not without flaws, no matter how small, and this film is no exception. However, from the sensational acting, over the riveting script and to the masterful directing, this film is a sure knockout.

The acting is the first point of sincere recognition. No matter how big or small the role, all of the acting within this film showcased a clear cut level of profound skill and flare, especially within the three leading roles.

The three leading actresses Lei Hao (Jianbo), Elaine Jin (Minglan) and Junxi Qu (Wanting) shine beyond measure in their roles, all delivering performances that were raw, emotional, moving and at times astounding.

An honourable point of mention here would be the scene in which Minglan is telling her partner Zhou about why she and her husband got divorced and the scene in which Minglan is confronted with the realisation that her friend has killed herself. In both of these scenes Minglan breaks down in tears, moved by anger, sadness and frustration. The way in which Elaine Jin delivers these scenes makes an unlikeable character subject to empathy and sympathy. These scenes were not only sincerely memorable, but were also incredibly moving and emotive, forcing the viewer into mesmerisation and genuine empathy.

Portraying the quiet frustrations of Jianbo with rawness and realism, Lei Hao proves to hold a genuine talent within her that is unmissable, and likewise, Junxi Qu melts into her character of Wanting with such authenticity and brilliance.

Each actor keeps our eyes on the screen and our hearts open.

Aside from the brilliance of the acting, the film’s script and Yang Lina’s directing certify Spring Tide’s pre-eminence.

Throughout the film, the script remains beautifully written and Lina certainly proves that she has an eye for captivation through words. A scene that undoubtedly showcases the script’s brilliance is one of the final scenes in which Jianbo talks to her mother in the hospital whilst she is sleeping, or perhaps unconscious, and says everything she has kept inside of her for so long. The way Hao keeps a dead pan yet entirely emotional face throughout this scene is striking.

Throughout this rather long, intense scene, lines crop up that are mesmerizing and show more depth into the disintegrated relationship between these two beings, as well as Jianbo’s feelings towards her mother. Lines such as ‘what do you want for me? Loneliness’ and ‘even a dead man can’t escape your cursing’ are heart breaking as well as superb.

It should be highlighted here what phenomenal directing lays within almost every scene of this film. In this scene, instead of talking to and facing her mother, Jianbo looks out and at the window where her mother’s reflection is. This is such sharp, interesting directing that says so much about their relationship even before words do. This insightful directing is prevalent throughout the film.

The script is also sensationally original. In one of the scenes Jianbo is interviewing a woman for an article and this woman begins to talk about the requirements of marriage. She says that a marriage is 50/50 and when she is at 20 percent, she expects her husband to be at 80. She then goes on to say how when you’re both at 20 – ‘where does that other 60 percent come from? A child or a lover’. Lines like this showcase that the script is capable not only of pumping the viewer full of emotions and feelings but of also bringing a sense of originality and freshness to the cinematic sphere and to our screens.

For all that this film is beautifully striking in many, many ways, it does at times sabotage itself with strange, sometimes melodramatic scenes that don’t make sense and simply don’t work.

Scenes such as when Jianbo goes to her boyfriend’s flat and he jumps out at her, wrapping her in a sheet and unwilling to let her go. The two then end up fighting and hitting one another. Or, the scene in which Jianbo has a dream of men dressed in green garments pulling a goat from under the table and then, in the next shot, Minglan is now the goat, being carried away forcibly.

We also get shots of Jianbo seeing a woman on the bus and in the lake, and there is no guess or resolution as to who this woman is.

Scenes like these don’t make sense, nor do they add anything to the movie besides confusion and in some cases, annoyance.

However a few strange scenes cannot take away from the reality that this is a great film, with so much to offer.

Spring Tide is a captivating film fashioned out of a simple premise. It is an unforgettable journey through the lives of an ordinary family, offering itself as nothing short of beautiful, extraordinary and entirely emotive and with it, Yang Lina has proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with within the cinematic sphere.

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