Berlinale-Blogger 2017 Ménage-à-trois against Ennui and Discontent

Ciao Ciao
Ciao Ciao | © Berlinale

"Ciao Ciao" portrays the reverse culture shock experienced by a young girl who returns from the megacity of Guangzhou to her hometown in Yunnan.

Like Chinese director Song Chuan’s debut feature film Huan Huan, his second film Ciao Ciao is also shot in his hometown in southern China’s Yunnan Province. And again, the film is named after the lead character. Ciao Ciao comes back from Guangzhou to pay a short visit to her parents before opening a shop with her friend in the big city. Her presence in this small Yunnan town attracts a lot of attention. Her showy white skirt, light blue translucent shirt, Luis Vuitton bag, Hermès scarf and high-heeled sandals making for a striking contrast to the mainly green and earthy colours of her hometown.

Feeling alienated from the town, where her father captures snakes to make quack medicine and whose main source of income comes from illegally distilling corn whisky, Ciao Ciao soon befriends two men who have also experienced life as migrant workers in the city: a Cantonese hairdresser from Guangzhou who is sent to Yunnan by his company, and Li Wei, the spoiled son of a local distiller who used to work in Zhejiang Province. Ciao Ciao gets caught up in a ménage-à-trois with these two men with their very different temperaments and aspirations and finds it difficult to leave.

The visual clash between urban imageries and rural landscapes is intensified by the intentionally jarring soundscape which heavily mixes white noise and chaotic beats that disturb, subvert and unsettle. Just as the soundtrack feels like a stranger to the landscape, Ciao Ciao is like a stranger in her own town. Her boredom is apparent as she drifts back and forth between the local grocery store where she buys her daily cigarettes and the Guangzhou hairdresser’s salon – the only two places to hang out in town. The locals are also bored; they spend their time gambling, drinking, whoring and in some cases sucking up to local police officers. In this male-dominated society suffused with a sense of ennui, stillness and frustration, it is men who set the rules but women who try their best to break free while half-heartedly playing along.

Interestingly, Liang Xueqin, the actress who plays Ciao Ciao, is also a “migrant worker / Beijing drifter” who moved from Sichuan Province to Beijing to pursue her acting career. Thanks to Liang’s hard work, her performance is realistic and convincing, but the lengthy sequences portraying Ciao Ciao’s ennui and discontent also turn out to be moments of ennui and discontent for the audience. Meanwhile, the nicely designed social backdrop of migration and homecoming is sadly rendered superfluous by the trivial and hollow yet extensive plot of lust and revenge.