Why We Are Unhappy in Cities
13 Aug 2021
Cheng Hao, Wang Xiaoxiao, Sanming Han
A young man is really attached to his lighter.
This man (Hao) is of to work one day and once he goes through the front door, he realises that he had forgotten his lighter and asks his girlfriend (Xiaoxiao) to toss it to him from the balcony and as she does so, he fails to catch it and it lands on the ground, getting damaged, not producing a flame anymore. He is deeply annoyed by this and seems to make it his life's mission to have it repaired and not replaced. Meanwhile, his partner leaves him and wanders the streets aimlessly with a suitcase.
This short story from China is filled with awkward and surreal moments and has drama as well. An example of the film's strangeness occurs when the girl briefly becomes a model in the blink of an eye, after she is spoted sitting outside a clothing shop by the manager. There is also a part where the film concentrates on two unknown individuals dancing in the street. The script basically consists of two storylines: the man repeatedly trying to find someone who will get his precious lighter fixed and the woman as she walks in the city by herself, not knowing where to go or what to do.
One rather interesting technique here involves an unseen person who approaches first the woman then the boy and interacts with them, talking to them, giving them money and lighting a cigarette for them. This person speaks with a male voice, appears to know a great deal about them and seems to be concerned about their well-being. Both sequences are filmed from the stranger's point of view and his identity remains a mystery and could be open to interpretation. Is he their conscience? Is he some sort of guardian looking out for them?
Hao is convincing as an eccentric, antisocial young man, whose main priority is to get his lighter working again. He treats anyone who is unable to help him with disrespect and the shocking ending suggests that he might even be out of his mind. Xiaoxiao delivers an emotional performance as the girlfriend who is annoyed and hurt by her partner's behaviour.
First-time director Zhao does a great job, creating wonderful establishing shots and fast motion and slow motion techniques are utilized effectively. There are also interesting sequences during which music is used as sound over, while the diegetic sounds are muted.
This film appears to explore how people can become fixated to objects and how that can affect their lives and the way they are treated by the ones around them. It is an intriguing achievement and worthy of attention.