When Night Falls
More than just “based on a true story,” Liang Ying’s Wo hai you hua yao shuo (When Night Falls) captures the emotional state of its protagonist to such an extent that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re watching a documentary. Yang Jia was arrested and beaten by the Shanghai police after they caught him riding an unlicensed bicycle. After continual harassment by the authorities, he armed himself, entered a police station, and killed six officers.
“Justice” was swift, he was sentenced to death without a trial, and promptly executed. The case became famous among Chinese netizens thanks to Ai Weiwei, whose studio made a documentary about it. Ying’s economical film nods to this, beginning and ending with photos, some culled from the internet, encapsulating the timeline of the case, but prefers places us in the mind of the Wang Jingmei, Jia’s courageous mother, who was illegally detained in a mental hospital for 143 days to prevent her from testifying on her son’s behalf.
Ying follows her during the period of the rush to final judgment, as an unflinching bureaucracy ignores her exhausted pleas. The point is clear: as Wang Jingmei shouts, over Ying’s frame of an empty stairwell, “What is wrong with this society?” Yet also thanks to the often physical performance of Nai An as Wang Jingmei, Wo hai you hua yao shuo is more than agitprop—it is a moving and necessary dramatization of what it is like to be isolated in a society that has forsaken the individual’s right to be heard.
Unsurprisingly, Ying and his family have come under attack in China, and he’s been threatened with arrest. For his complete account of events, please read his statement, “Nothing About Cinema, Everything About Freedom”: http://eng.jiff.or.kr/c00_news/c10_notice_detail.asp?idx=152Mark Peranson