BEIJING NEW YORK
directed by Rain Li
In this day and age, distance has partially lost its meaning. One can easily get halfway around the world in 12 hours, while chatting or seeing each other in real time, from two different continents, has never been easier. However, while physical distance has indeed shrunk over the years, the process does little to negate sentimental distance when trying to maintain a relationship from different sides of the planet. Rain Li’s ‘Beijing New York’ explores this theme in depth, and additionally references the complex topics of dreams, hopes and ambition, materialism versus spirituality, and whether or not things, feelings and events come full-circle. It reminds of the recent, excellent ‘Brooklyn’, which treated a similar situation, albeit in a different manner.
The film follows Jasmine, a Chinese woman in her late 20s, whose childhood dream was to become a world-renowned violinist. While she did make the first steps towards achieving this by moving to New York, success was hard to come by, and she found herself working three jobs in order to make a living: she sings at a club, acts as a tour guide and delivers takeaway meals. When she stumbles upon her childhood sweetheart, Lenny, who had abandoned their relationship a long time ago, now on business in New York after becoming a successful CEO back in China, the two spend time together and bond. Things become more complicated when Jasmine also falls for Joe, a former banker turned artist, who draws an endless pool of inspiration from her in his work. She has to choose, but not just between one man and the other, but between her childhood hopes and the existence she had crafted for herself, between her original country or her adoptive country.
The problem is that the character of Jasmine comes off as shallow at times, her subconscious train of thought rarely steps away from the predominant state of indecision she finds herself in, pendulating between one lover and the other in an attempt to make some sense of her feelings. Lenny and Joe, in contrast, are more complex and layered characters, and their motivations span across multiple variables. Despite caring just as much for Jasmine, the men are polar opposites: one loves art and the other knows nothing about it, one was rich and gradually became poor, with the reverse true for the other. Most importantly, one wants Jasmine to get away from the past, while the other wishes her in order to return to a past moment. Despite only meeting for around two minutes, the two complement each other incredibly well, and their personas grant much substance and meaning to the film. The acting is wonderful: Liu Ye, Lin Zhiling and especially Richard de Klerk give fantastic performances and bring their characters to life.
Last but not least, ‘Beijing New York’ looks splendidly, with a distinct artistic side complementing the technical proficiency of its shots, and creating an absolutely breath-taking cinematography. The audio part works just as fine, with a very suitable and aptly-dosed score aiding key moments in storytelling and emotionality. As mentioned before, there are some hiccups with the plot: at times, it feels a bit incoherent or repetitive, and it doesn’t take full advantage of all its elements. For instance, it is situated around the time of the 2008 economic downturn and the Olympic Games being organised in Beijing, but it ultimately does nothing with these premises except provide a bit of an explanation for character situations.
'Beijing New York’ is a film about distance, an escape from artificiality and a search for real. It has a wide array of messages incorporated within its plot, but perhaps its greatest virtue is that it permanently strays away from the cheesiness of Hollywood-ish romance flicks and stays true to its essence. Rain Li’s film is close to a masterpiece, and how much it will resonate with the audience depends on each and every individual. As one of the characters says at one point, ‘the view is the reflection of your emotions.’