Release year: 2007
Run time: 93 min
Film type: Documentary
In 2002, Han Peiyin’s son Shengli was accepted into university and arrived in the city of Xi’an from his rural home. To pay for Shengli’s living expenses and tuition, Han sold off all the valuable things in his home and came to work in Xi’an to make money. Though a lifelong farmer, Han firmly believed knowledge had the power to change destinies and expected his son to be successful. Jobs for migrant workers were getting harder to find as more and more farmers came to the city. Han could barely make RMB 400 a month, yet Shengli needed RMB 9,000 a year for college. The place Han stayed cost one RMB a night. At night, he used a brick as his pillow. Shengli would think about what to eat after class. He saw the bottled water his classmates were holding and could only think of selling the empty for money. Graduation was near. A shy youth, Shengli’s job prospects were dim. He felt the city was becoming further away from him. Despite his education, he might end up earning less than his father. For years the elder Han carried with him a notebook, in which he entered records of his borrowings. Most of them were small sums of 10 or 20 RMB. He also noted his expectations for his son: “Around the year 2013 or so, that is, roughly in my sixties, Shengli will take our family to Beijing for a sightseeing visit. We will have plenty of money by then…”
Li Junhu graduated with a degree in photography. He currently works for the International Division of Shaanxi TV Station. His works include: Cyber Love (2004) Accompanied Study (2005) Born in 1977 (2006) Traveling a Thousand Li in Search of Mother (2006) City (2006) Brave Father (2007) (20th FIPA International Festival of Audiovisual Programs; Southern Appalachian International Film Festival, 2008; 2nd Chinese Documentary Festival—Best Short Documentary; Rhode Island International Film Festival, 2009)
Money is a very heavy word, especially when life is full of borrowing and reimbursing. Its heaviness even surpasses money itself. Some people use mineral water to wash their face, rinse their mouth and satisfy their thirst, while others collect and sell the empty bottles for food. Some people sail through college easily paying their way, while others have to sell everything in their possession. Han Peiyin comes to the city with hope—because his son Han Shengli is a college student. This explains why he lives optimistically with a book full of debt records. He believes Shengli will have a different future. Longing can be seen in everybody with hope. When you feel you’re getting closer to what you long for, you can endure any hardship, because you see a beautiful future in front of you. It can be hard to realize this future may be not as good as expected, or even just an empty dream. When Shengli looks into the distance from the top of the school building and mutters “I think I will stay here”, we are led to believe that’s something that will naturally happen. Having a better life is what everybody wants, unless one feels one’s current life is already good enough. As a rural college student in the city, Shengli struggles to make ends meet. He understands that a better life is to be found in cities. Staying in the city is his biggest wish, as it’s his father’s. “Around 2003 or so, by then we will be rich, our family will go to Beijing to visit for a couple of days, certainly we will…” When Han Peiyin was longing for the future, Shengli uttered his tired and desperate speech to the camera. Words he couldn’t bring to say to his father: “He has to accept it, and he must face reality. That’s life.” Living in a prosperous city, believing your dream is within reach when in fact this dream is as remote as ever; when a belief you’ve held since childhood collapses and you suddenly find life is not what it seems, what will you do? In the end, in an act deserving our respect, Han Peiyin accepts this unacceptable reality.