In the Chinese province of Sichuan, one of the mountains is so high that it's literally "on the rim of the sky"; and in that mountain, there is an isolated village called Gulu. The villagers' children received their education at a small elementary school, where local resident Shen Qijun (pictured above) had been the only regular teacher for the past 27 years. The children lived simple lives and appeared to enjoy their carefree childhoods. Things began to become different, however, when a young volunteer teacher Bao Tangtao joined the school and started to implement changes, much to Shen's disapproval. As the two men's relationship went from mutual dislike to one of overt aggression, the once peaceful village became divided and was changed forever.
On The Rim Of The Sky is directed by Xu Hongjie, an engineer-turned-filmmaker, who was also involved in the film's superb editing (together with Rainer Nigrelli) and outstanding cinematography (alongside Mincheol Wang). The pacing is fast like a thriller and the knowledge that the events really happened only add to the film's intensity. The village is very picturesque and the amazing scenery is breathtakingly captured on film. The school's peaceful surroundings contrast greatly with the unrest that was brewing inside.
The conflict between Shen and Bao is the key element of the film, and Xu presents the story from both men's points of view. It is clear that they have each made some mistakes along the way, and the film doesn't portray either one of them as the villain. Just like the residents of Gulu Village, the viewers are left to decide for themselves whose side they are on.
The film does raise some questions that are not completely answered; in particularly in regards to the money donated to the school and the building of Shen's new house, but I guess that's just like real life, where we don't always get all the answers to our questions either.
On The Rim Of The Sky is a well-crafted film. Not since Asif Kapadia's Senna has a documentary so cleverly portrayed the rivalry between two men. Unlike the story of Brazilian Formula One racing champion Ayrton Senna and his archrival Alain Prost, however, the conflict between Shen and Bao occurred on a much smaller scale and will certainly not make it into history books. It is nevertheless a story well worth telling because the theme of the new clashing with the old is a universal one, and it is not hard to notice or recall similar conflicts occurring in other parts of China and the rest of the world, right now and in the past.
The film's Chinese title literally translates as 'Tomorrow Will Be Better', which was also the title of a very famous 1985 Chinese song that later gave rise to the English title of John Woo's seminal action film A Better Tomorrow (in which the song is sung by a children's choir in one of the scenes). While the song does not actually feature in On The Rim Of The Sky, in choosing this Chinese title, the director is probably suggesting that while changes are inevitable, a better tomorrow is indeed awaiting his country.
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