Connect with us

Lifestyle

A Beijing restaurant critic arrives at a crossroads in this absorbing family drama

Published

on

A Beijing restaurant critic arrives at a crossroads in this absorbing family drama

Gu (Xin Baiqing) struggles with his own sense of impermanence in The Shadowless Tower.

Strand Releasing


hide caption

toggle caption

Advertisement

Strand Releasing


Gu (Xin Baiqing) struggles with his own sense of impermanence in The Shadowless Tower.

Strand Releasing

The title of The Shadowless Tower refers to an enormous 13th-century Buddhist temple that looms over the Xicheng district of Beijing. It’s called the White Pagoda, and it was designed in such a way that its shadow can be hard to see.

That makes it a poignant metaphor for the movie’s middle-aged protagonist, Gu, who’s struggling with his own sense of impermanence. As he quietly drifts through a life riven by loss and disappointment, he wonders, as time slips away, if he himself will leave a meaningful impression.

Advertisement

The viewer, however, will not forget him anytime soon. Gu is played by the actor Xin Baiqing, whose movingly understated performance holds you through every step of this leisurely but absorbing drama.

We first meet Gu as he and his family are visiting the grave of his recently deceased mom. It takes a few moments to figure out how everyone’s related. The 6-year-old girl we see is Gu’s daughter, and she’s as happy and upbeat as her name, Smiley, would lead you to believe.

But we soon learn that Smiley lives with Gu’s older sister and brother-in-law, who have effectively adopted her. While Gu is very much a part of their lives, he’s an unreliable father at best, prone to showing up late — and sometimes drunk — for regular visits.

Whatever Gu’s failings as a parent, they seem to faintly echo those of his own father, whom he hasn’t seen since he was a young boy for reasons that are not immediately clear. Now, decades later, his long-absent father has been quietly reaching out to the family, and Gu is considering letting him back in.

You can imagine how this all might play out in a different movie, with stormy flashbacks, anguished recriminations and a tear-jerking happy ending. But the writer-director Zhang Lu is after something subtler and more realistic. He knows how hard it can be, in life, for even two willing parties to connect.

Advertisement

The movie’s other key relationship proves similarly elusive. Gu, who once dreamed of being a poet, now works as a restaurant critic. One of his colleagues is a mischievous young photographer named Ouyang, played by Huang Yao, who takes pictures of the dishes he writes about.

But while the two have a flirtatious chemistry, their romance never really gets off the ground. That may be because of their age difference, which Ouyang pokes fun at by playfully introducing Gu as her father or her boyfriend, depending on the situation. But it may also have something to do with Gu’s passivity. As another character puts it, “Too much politeness builds a wall between people.”

In its own unassuming way, The Shadowless Tower means to knock down some of those walls. Most of us realize, sooner or later, that we’re more like our parents or other family members than we care to admit. But the movie articulates that truth with a gentleness that can take your breath away, like the eerie moment when Gu realizes how much Smiley resembles the grandfather she’s never met.

And if this is a story of intergenerational conflict, we see some of that tension reflected in Beijing itself. The camera follows Gu around the city, where sleek modern surfaces coexist with ancient traditional buildings — like that White Pagoda, often seen in the background.

There’s another inspired touch that resonates powerfully if you know to look for it. Gu’s father is well played by the filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang, who, like many Chinese directors of his generation, experienced government censorship and persecution earlier in his career. His 1993 drama, The Blue Kite, set during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, was banned in mainland China, and Tian himself was restricted from filmmaking for 10 years.

Advertisement

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tian’s character in The Shadowless Tower is seen flying a kite, or that he’s shown to be emerging from exile. There’s sadness in that parallel, but also a sense of hope — a reminder that while none of us can change the past, the future remains beautifully unwritten.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Lifestyle

The 16 Messages That Led to Love

Published

on

The 16 Messages That Led to Love

Getting to know someone used to take many forms: handwritten letters, phone conversations, in-person heart-to-hearts. Today, we text. We slide into D.M.s. Dating apps and social media have made it effortless to start a conversation. Still, it can be hard to know what exactly to say. We asked readers of the Modern Love column to share the early messages — the banter, emojis and wit — that made them fall for each other. — Kate LaRue

The texts below are from real threads that have been carefully excavated (screengrabbed) from the phones of readers. They’ve been lightly edited — and reanimated — for clarity and your enjoyment.

Continue Reading

Lifestyle

Quavo Goes Scorched Earth in Rap Rebuttal to Chris Brown, Features Takeoff

Published

on

Quavo Goes Scorched Earth in Rap Rebuttal to Chris Brown, Features Takeoff

Advertisement

Continue Reading

Lifestyle

How the Founding Fathers' concept of 'Minority Rule' is alive and well today

Published

on

How the Founding Fathers' concept of 'Minority Rule' is alive and well today

A voter leaves a voting booth in Concord, N.H., the during primary election on Jan. 23, 2024.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Advertisement

Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images


A voter leaves a voting booth in Concord, N.H., the during primary election on Jan. 23, 2024.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

It’s a fundamental tension in a democracy: How do you have majority rule in a way that also protects minority rights? Journalist Ari Berman says the Founding Fathers struggled with that question back in 1787 — except, for them, white male landowners were the minority in need of protection.

“Most of the founders were skeptical of the public’s ability to elect the president directly,” Berman says. “So they created this very complicated situation in which electors would elect the president instead of the people electing the president directly.”

Advertisement

In his new book, Minority Rule, Berman connects the debates and compromises of the country’s founders to contemporary politics. He says the founding fathers created a system that concentrated power in the hands of the elite and that today, institutions like the Electoral College and the Senate — designed as a check against the power of the majority — are having much the same effect.

Berman notes that in the country’s first presidential election, in 1789, only a small fraction of the population was eligible to vote — and in certain states, voters were only allowed to vote for electors, not the candidates themselves.

Though the right to vote has since been expanded, Berman says the democratic process remains deeply flawed. He points out that in 2000 and again in 2016, the presidential candidate who won the popular vote did not win the electoral vote. Additionally, he says, because the Constitution stipulates that each state gets two senators, regardless of its population, “smaller, whiter, more conservative states have far more power and representation in the Senate then larger, more diverse, more urban states.”

“What we see right now is the same kind of thing, in which a privileged, conservative, white minority is trying to suppress the power of a much more diverse multiracial governing majority,” Berman says. “And that’s a very dangerous situation for American democracy.”

Interview highlights

Minority Rule, by Ari Berman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Advertisement


hide caption

toggle caption

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Minority Rule, by Ari Berman

Advertisement

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

On the Constitution as a flawed document

We venerate the Constitution as a civic religion. I think we would be much greater served to look at the Constitution as a whole document and say, there are some remarkable parts of this document, but there’s also some really flawed parts of this document that we still haven’t corrected. Because the really remarkable thing is that even as America has democratized in the centuries since — and nobody would argue that America isn’t more democratic now than it was back then — some features of the Constitution have become more undemocratic.

On the creation of the Electoral College to uphold minority rule

Most of the founders were skeptical of the public’s ability to elect the president directly. They felt like the public would be uninformed, or it would be chosen by the largest states, or would be chosen by free states in a way that would hurt the South. So it’s interesting, one of the themes that runs through the book and runs through the founding is that these smaller minorities wanted protection. And when I may say smaller minorities, I don’t mean minority groups. I mean the small states wanted protection, the slave states wanted protection, and they felt like they would get that protection in the Electoral College. So they created this very complicated situation in which electors would elect the president instead of the people electing the president directly.

Advertisement

On how representatives from Delaware scuffled the initial plan to have Senate representation being based on population

James Madison and other prominent framers wanted the Senate to be based on proportional representation, so they wanted it to be based on population. So larger states like Virginia would have more representation than smaller states like Delaware. But the smaller states rebelled. And there’s this amazing moment at the Constitutional Convention where the attorney general of Delaware gets up and he tells the likes of James Madison, if you don’t give us the same representation, we’re going to find a foreign ally who we’re going to join with instead, and we’re going to leave the United States of America. And that was a stunning demand. The idea that they would go rejoin England or they would join France instead, if they didn’t have the same level of representation, meant that the larger states had no choice but to give in to the demand of the smaller states to ratify the Constitution.

But what Madison worried about is that it would allow what he called a more objectionable minority than ever to control the U.S. Senate, because if the smaller states had the same level of representation as the larger states, that was inevitably going to lead to minority rule. And Madison worried that would get worse as more states join the union. And, of course, that’s what’s happened today, where the gap between large and small states is dramatically larger than it was back in 1787.

On how the two Senator per state representation affects minority rule

Just to give you one really stunning stat, by 2040, 70% of the population is going to live in 15 states with 30 senators. That means that 30% of the country, which is going to be whiter, more rural, more conservative, is going to elect 70% of the U.S. Senate. So the trend in the U.S. Senate is becoming more imbalanced and more undemocratic. And what’s really interesting to me is a lot of conservatives want to go back and they want to quote the framers, but they ignore that a lot of the framers, including James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, had grave concerns about some of the institutions they were creating, particularly the structure of the U.S. Senate.

Advertisement

Lauren Krenzel and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.

Continue Reading

Trending