Immersing itself deep into its isolated rural background, Chinese film “Mountain Cry” looks at one human relationship between two different people. While its story is essentially a typical melodrama about love and redemption, the movie takes its time as patiently observing the development of their initially tentative relationship, and it is touching to see how they come to find their better sides in front of an impossible circumstance which must be resolved in one way or other.
It is 1984, and things look quiet and uneventful in Anshanping village as the movie looks around the village and some of its residents. Surrounded by peaks, ravines, and terraced farmlands in the Taihang Mountains area, this tiny village is located high on rocky ravines as being insulated from the outside world, and villagers know each other pretty well as living together there for many years. For example, everyone in the village knows that Han Chong (Wang Ziyi), one of a few young men in the village, has been infatuated with a sassy widow named Qin Hua (Guo Jin), and Han Chong and Qin Hua make no secret about that. During the opening sequence, they have a brief ‘private’ talk across a ravine between them, and anyone in the village can hear their exchanged words being spread in the air.
Eager to please Qin Hua, Han Chong tries another attempt to catch a badger, but this leads to an unexpected accident. La Hong (Yu Ailei), a guy who came from outside to settle in the village with his family around six months ago, happens to be seriously wounded by Han Chong’s trap, and he eventually dies not long after he is hurriedly taken to his residence. Because the village chief is currently absent due to his health problem, the other town elder and villagers have to make the decision on how to take care of this serious incident, and they decide that they should cover up the incident rather than reporting it to authorities outside, mainly because they do not want any scandal to tarnish the reputation of their village.
In case of La Hong’s family, it is decided that they should get a considerable amount of compensation to be paid by Han Chong’s father (Cheng Taishen), but La Hong’s young mute wife Hong Xia (Lang Yueting) seems to have a different idea. Although she cannot speak, she can write instead, and she demands that Han Chong should support her and her two young kids until he finds any possible way to compensate for her husband’s death.
Han Chong is understandably reluctant about this, but he follows this specific demand of hers anyway, and, what do you know, it does not take much time for him to like this elusive but pretty woman who slowly shows her silent affection toward him. As he spends more time with her and her kids, Han Chong and Hong Xia begin to see their possible future, and it looks like all they need is the clear confirmation of the mutual feeling growing between them day by day.
However, there is something Hong Xia does not reveal to Han Chong, and the movie gradually presents her secret bit by bit. As shown during the opening sequence, La Hong was not a good father and husband at all, and there is a dark, disturbing flashback scene which reveals the true nature of Hong Xia’s relationship with her husband. As it later turns out that her presence can lead to another problem for the village, Hong Xia becomes an unwelcomed figure under this changed circumstance, and we soon see how ordinary people can be selfish, unfair, and heartless to outsider in the name of common good.
The movie goes into bold melodramatic mode around this point as expected, but it remains grounded in vivid details and believable characters, and the director Larry Yang, who adapted Ge Shuiping’s novel of the same name for his movie, and his crew did a splendid job of bringing the palpable sense of period and location into the screen. While they mainly shot the film at three different rural locations in Shanxi, the locations are seamlessly put together to create one fictional village on the screen, and the cinematographer Patrick Murguia wonderfully captures those gorgeous mountainous landscapes on his camera. Thanks to the production design by Jeffrey Kong, the shabby environment of the characters in the film is filled with realistic details of their mundane daily life, and Han Chong’s daily mill work is particularly interesting to watch for its old-fashioned aspects.
It also helps that the movie is supported by two excellent lead performances. While Wang Ziyi is likable as a young man who comes to find himself rising to the occasion through love and accompanying personal growth, Lang Yueting is simply superb in her wordless performance. Evocative of those mesmerizing silent movie actresses, her beautiful expressive face subtly conveys to us whatever is felt and thought behind her character’s mute façade, and there is a lovely scene when her character freely expresses her joy and happiness in her own way on the top of a nearby peak.
While the supporting characters in the film are more or less than your average stereotypes, they are depicted with life and personality thanks to the good supporting cast. While being stern and distant to his son, Han Chong’s father is not so proud about his seedy past, and Cheng Taishen has a poignant moment when his character decides to do what should be done for his son. Yu Ailei is effective in his increasingly loathsome role, Guo Jin is also convincing when her character causes a serious trouble as driven by jealousy, and the special mention goes to Han Chong’s cute little kitten, which always attracted my attention every time it appeared.
Although it is a bit slow in the beginning, “Mountain Cry”, which should not be confused with Jia Zhangke’s “Mountains May Depart” (2015), is quite rewarding to watch how it surprises and touches us with its earnest human drama. There will be tears in the end, and the movie properly earns them through the characters we come to care about more than before. They may be flawed, but they are good people, and we are moved by their choices – as being saddened by the inevitability they all have to accept.