Thursday, August 16, 2007

‘Getting Home’ and going the extra mile

As a gesture of support for the film industry of this world, I told myself I will watch at least one film shown at the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival (still going on, by the way) which has the presence of no less than US director Quentin Tarantino. The guy’s name is splashed on big banners at the Gateway Mall in Araneta Center, the festival’s venue.

I watched the Chinese film “Getting Home”, a “gently philosophical road comedy”, directed by Zhang Yang because the synopsis promised something so out of the ordinary. Also because I had watched a couple of really good Chinese ones in the past, among them, the award-winning “Not One Less” (starring rural school children as themselves) and the heart-breaking “Xiu-Xiu, The Sent-Down Girl”. These are minimalist films, if I may call them that, and do not belong to the “Crouching Tiger” genre that has elaborate sets, movements and plots.

I was not disappointed. When it was over I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face and a little tear in my eye. And “Getting Home” was supposed to be a comedy. You know, like “Ang Tatay Kong Nanay” (Dolphy and Nino Muhlach) is comedy but brings on the tears in the end. Because it is about human relationships.

Who’d ever think of making a film about a wandering corpse? Hold your horror, “Getting Home” isn’t a horror movie. It is about friendship and loyalty beyond death. Like, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways”. Countless indeed are the ways a friend would think of to prove his loyalty to a friend who died far away from home and in not so honorable a manner.

This is also about Good Samaritans on the highways as well as highwaymen with evil intent, about strangers going the extra mile for strangers, the little lives they lead, their joys, their dreams, their pain. It also gives you a glimpse of the changing landscape of semi-rural, semi-urban places in China and the values and traditions that endure and remain.

While watching the film I couldn’t help thinking about a Filipino version, perhaps starring Johnny Delgado as the loyal friend. And since Rene Requiestas and Yoyoy Villame are dead, I couldn’t think of someone who would be the corpse.

When his drinking buddy and long-time co-worker Liu Quanyou (Hong Qiwen) drops dead during a drinking spree, his friend Zhao (Zhao), a 50-ish migrant worker, vows to bring home his friend’s corpse to his family so he could be given a proper burial. Zhao plans to transport Liu’s corpse through the countryside via the local bus route. He carries his dead friend on his back and seats him on a passenger bus. The bus is waylaid by a gang of holdup men but Zhao is able to talk the bad guys into giving up their evil deed. They give Zhao the loot and leave, something the passengers should be grateful for. But not when Zhao reveals that Liu is a corpse. He assures the irate women Liu is dead when they accuse Liu of watching them while they were urinating on the wayside.

Ingrates. In the middle of nowhere Zhao has to get off the bus with his dead friend on his back. His journey continues on the winding road that seems endless. A truck driver stops and picks them up. Zhao sings a love song to entertain the driver. Painful memories of a lost love come crashing down and the driver suffers an impromptu emotional breakdown. It is a cathartic moment and Zhao must take charge in order to prevent the truck from careening into the abyss.

Zhao gets off with his dead friend at the fork of the road. From hereon he will have to use unconventional methods of transporting the body—by putting the corpse inside a huge tire and rolling it down a hill, by hiding it inside a huge concrete pipe that gets loaded on a cargo truck. Several times Zhao wants to call it quits and join his friend in the afterlife. He is tired, he is hungry and his shoes are worn out. When he takes off the corpse’s shoes he finds a wad of bills hidden inside. A good meal at last! Alas, the money turns out to be fake and Zhao almost gets lynched at the roadside restaurant.

But the people he meets on the long road to home give Zhao reason not to give up. Like the rich, eccentric recluse who stages his own funeral complete with paid mourners and all, Zhao among them. Zhao turns out to be the most convincing mourner. When the “dead” man later “rises” from the dead, he seeks out the stunned Zhao who promptly admits it was his hunger and the free meal that made him join the funeral rites. The rich man tells him, “Indeed, hunger can make a man honest” or something like that. He also teaches Zhao some secrets on cadaver preservation and how to make Liu’s corpse last a little longer.

There still are several remarkable characters down the road—a young family of beekeepers that has opted for a simple life on the farm, a cyclist on his way to Tibet who shows Zhao the beauty around him and on the horizon beyond.

It is a kind police officer that finally picks up the near-dead Zhao (because of exhaustion) and the corpse. Liu’s corpse is cremated and the officer helps Zhao (who is not carrying Liu’s ashes) find his way to the Three Gorges where Liu’s family is supposed to be. There they find ruins of homes that have been demolished. And where Liu’s home used to be, they find a broken door with a message for Liu from his family that has relocated. The village will soon go under water. (When finished, the Three Gorges dam will be the biggest dam in the world.)

This is not the end of Zhao’s journey.

How often do you go out of your way and walk a mile for a friend, and more importantly, for a stranger? To help, or for no other reason except to make a stranger happy?