Mei Yong and Jingchun Wang in “So Long, My Son” (2019)

Mei Yong and Jingchun Wang in So Long, My Son (2019)

Directed by Wang Xiaoshuai, one of the pioneer figures in China’s independent filmmaking, So Long, My Son traces the lives of two families over three decades of social, political and family turmoil in China.

The story takes place after China institutes its one-child policy. It’s the late 80s and ordinary couple Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun are both factory workers. They are very close to another couple, Shen Yingming and Li Haiyan, who work at the factory as supervisors. Shortly after Liyun is forced by Haiyan to have an abortion to implement the one-child policy, Yaojun and Liyun lose their only son in a tragic accident. Due to medical complications caused by the abortion, Yaojun and Liyun find that they could never conceive another child. Haiyan feels guilty and responsible for the whole incident. The two families’ paths separate. As their lives diverge and society transforms, a common search for truth and reconciliation around the tragedy remains for almost three decades.

 “So Long, My Son is a testament of history,” says director Wang Xiaoshuai, “it shows how ordinary Chinese felt as they experienced shattering changes in society, family and their personal identities.” With Director of Photography Kim Hyun-seok’s naturalistic, restrained and long-take shooting style, Wang Xiaoshuai revisits those changes from the 1980s all the way through the present, examining Chinese society through the microcosm of characters and exploring how good-natured people confront rapid social changes. 

A fluid editing job by Lee Chatametikool helps the film bring the past and the present together. Two lead actors Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei bring subtlety and power to their characters. Yong Mei’s Liyun is a quiet woman who never has a chance to heal her deeply wounded soul and can only follow the ups and downs of life. Wang Jingchun plays the empathetic alcoholic and grieving father Yaojun who takes a lifetime to say farewell not only to his son but also to his youth.

The film was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei won the Silver Bear for Best Actor and Actress respectively.