Nearly a decade after releasing Love at 7-11 (7-11之戀), veteran commercial director Teng Yung-shing (鄧勇星) follows up his debut feature with Return Ticket (到阜陽六百里), a realistic and engaging drama about migrant workers living in Shanghai.
Teng’s years of experience working in China show: the film is funded by Chinese backers and set in Shanghai with a cast of Chinese actors supplemented with a few from Taiwan.
The movie centers on Cao Li (Qin Hailu, 秦海璐), who leaves her home in Fuyang, Anhui province, to escape an abusive marriage. After working at a clothing factory for a few years in Shenzhen, Cao moves again when the business closes, this time to Shanghai, where she shares a ramshackle apartment with Xie Qin (Tang Qun, 唐群), an older woman from her hometown.
Cao finds a job as a cleaning lady, but Gou (Li Binbin, 李彬彬), a hustler who also hails from Fuyang, knows she is capable of something much grander.
Gou and his friend Jiuzi (Shen Yiquan, 沈羿銓) hatch a plan to repair a discarded bus to transport Fuyang natives living in Shanghai home for the Lunar New Year holiday, and persuade Cao to help sell seats for the journey in return for a share of the profits.
One after the other, Fuyang women working as nannies and housekeepers in the big city buy tickets. Exhausted after years of hardship raising her only child, Xie joins the group. Yet Cao chooses to stay in Shanghai, not knowing what home really means to a wandering soul like her.
The film’s quiet, slice-of-life style reflects the works of Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), who served as the executive producer for the project. Through the lens of cinematographer Hsia Shao-yu (夏紹虞), Shanghai sheds its metropolitan glitz, and what emerges is the city’s rather run-down underbelly, inhabited by workers from the provinces.
Directed by: Teng Yung-Shing (鄧勇星)
Starring: Qin Hailu (秦海璐) as Cao Li, Tang Qun (唐群) as Xie Qin, Li Binbin (李彬彬) as Gou,
Shen Yiquan (沈羿銓) as Jiuzi
Language: In Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles at the Ambassador Changchun Cinema (國賓長春影城). Screenings at other theaters only have Chinese subtitles
Running time: 85 minutes
Taiwan release: Today
The protagonists are often framed by long, static takes and delineated with a chiaroscuro look, especially indoors where they are sometimes heard, but not seen. For the main part, the film steers clear of sentimentality. Emotions are modestly expressed, as exemplified by one of the work’s most resonant scenes, in which Xie finds out that her good-for-nothing paramour has stolen Cao’s savings and mobile phone.
Return Ticket’s sense of truthfulness is also reflected through the strong performances delivered by the film’s cast members, including nonprofessional actors and acting veterans such as China’s Tang, who won the best supporting actress at this year’s Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎) for her controlled, yet powerful, portrait of a hardy mother.
Multi-talented actress Qin is also convincing as a migrant laborer, and appears at ease working alongside amateur actors, who in real life are immigrant workers. Qin is also credited as one of the five cowriters of the script, which was awarded the Best Original Screenplay Golden Horse Award.
Though the topic is bleak, there is plenty of hope to be found in Return Ticket, which at times is both warm and funny.