Xiayin (Huang Lu) is a journalist in Nanjing, living with her professor husband and her dog, and expecting her first child. Increasingly frustrated by the restrictions put upon her reporting by her supervisor, she goes against his wishes to investigate a case in the country. Slipping back and forth between recent past and present, Lush Reeds
tells a very specific and intimate story that nevertheless has much to say about modern-day life in China.
The story Xiayin is pursuing involves the ruination of a local farmer's koi pond due to poisoning from a factory. Enlisting the assistance of those who live and work in the area, she is ferried onward, further away from the urban comforts of Nanjing.
As Xiayin travels to the source, she finds herself spun around and set in strange, befuddling directions. The idyllic, pastoral landscape and its inhabitants turn eerie, encroaching on Xiayin both mentally and physically. She's always further away from her destination than she imagines she is, quite obviously having taken on more than she bargained for.
Meanwhile (though the events are cut together achronologically), her home life is stilted and unsatisfying. Her husband, who believes the Chinese government records his lectures, knows not to rock the boat and urges his wife to take the advice of her boss. Xiayin, however, isn't the type to toe the line. Her ultimate options are either to lead an unfulfilled professional life, or to actively court trouble.
Director Yang Yishu thankfully doesn't portray these events quite as grimly as you might imagine. There is plenty of playful, dry humor to be found here. One detour on Xiayin's rural odyssey finds a fraudulent medium taking advantage of the superstitious locals with hilariously vague messages from their dead loved ones. Another absurd comic highlight sees Xiayin's husband, who was never a fan of her dog Maomao, nonchalantly claiming the pooch "ran away" when he took him for a walk.
Yang balances the comedy expertly with the uneasy dread, so that neither mood feels jarring or out of place when it creeps into a scene. In a year when VIFF has showcased a wealth of wonderful East Asian films, Lush Reeds
still stands out as one of the more impressive entries. The film is a lyrical, mysterious puzzle, and almost every one of DP Li Aiguo's compositions is memorably lovely. It deserves a wide international audience.
Yang Yishu's enigmatic film held its World Premiere at this year's VIFF.
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