Chinese family saga 'So Long, My Son' sweeps acting honors at Berlinale
Updated 15:39, 18-Feb-2019
By Hong Yaobin
01:33

The Chinese epic drama "So Long, My Son" swept the top acting prizes at this year's Berlin International Film Festival on February 16 with its two lead actors Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei pocketing the Silver Bears for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.

Directed by Wang Xiaoshuai, the three-hour-plus family saga focuses on two ordinary Chinese families and the vicissitudes of their lives, telling their personal stories as they change and adapt. 

Yong Mei (L), winner of Silver Bear for Best Actress, and Wang Jingchun, winner of the Silver Bear for Best Actor, are seen on stage at the closing ceremony of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival at Berlinale Palace in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2019. /VCG Photo

Yong Mei (L), winner of Silver Bear for Best Actress, and Wang Jingchun, winner of the Silver Bear for Best Actor, are seen on stage at the closing ceremony of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival at Berlinale Palace in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2019. /VCG Photo

The film starts with a tragic incident that strikes a family living during the 1970s – a Chinese couple loses their only son, who drowned while playing with his friend. The family then adopts another little boy, eking out a living in a southern coastal town in Fujian Province.

The heartbroken couple is played by Chinese actor Wang Jingchun and actress Yong Mei, whose excellent performances won critical acclaim from industry to academia, especially among the six-person festival jury, headed by celebrated French actress Juliette Binoche.

Veteran actor Wang showcases extraordinary acting skills in his portrayal of a solid-as-a-rock father Liu Yaojun, whose emotional outbursts, not often, but always in critical moments, are astounding.

Wang Jingchun (C) poses after the closing ceremony of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival at Berlinale Palace in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2019. /VCG Photo

Wang Jingchun (C) poses after the closing ceremony of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival at Berlinale Palace in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2019. /VCG Photo

At the same time, the character Liu's ordinary kindness, which is a core element throughout the film's narrative and leads the story to a warm ending, came through in numerous details.

The 46-year-old actor became the second Chinese actor to grab the Best Actor trophy in Berlin, following Liao Fan, who won it in 2014 for the film "Black Coal, Thin Ice." The film costarring Wang garnered the Golden Bear prize for the festival's top film.

A Twitter screenshot of Variety's Berlin Film Review of "So Long, My Son."

A Twitter screenshot of Variety's Berlin Film Review of "So Long, My Son."

Yong Mei's portrayal of a devastated mother and fragile wife was also moving, and it helped her become the third Chinese actress to bag the Silver Bear award 24 years later. 

She also had an impressive performance in Chinese film master Hou Hsiao-hsien's award-winning martial arts piece "The Assassin."

In this latest melodrama, as a perceptive woman of few words, Yong presents a soft but strong power, as well as tremendous courage she shows while facing the changes in daily life.

Screenshots show Chinese actor Wang Jingchun's post (Top) and actress Yong Mei's post (Bottom) on Weibo.

Screenshots show Chinese actor Wang Jingchun's post (Top) and actress Yong Mei's post (Bottom) on Weibo.

Variety magazine said the performances "are so empathetic and so rooted in the reality of even the most fraught situation, that contrivances feel more like natural coincidences."

After winning the great honors, the two shared their excitement in short posts on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform in China. Wang wrote: "Caught the bear..." while Yong left a message about feeling "Lucky."

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A poster for Wang Xiaoshuai's "So Long, My Son". /Photo via Douban.com

A poster for Wang Xiaoshuai's "So Long, My Son". /Photo via Douban.com

Through close looks at the ups and downs in each individual's life, the heart-wrenching film makes a deep bow to the human spirit and highlights the ordinary goodness in everyday life, while acknowledging the character's powerlessness against all kinds of uncontrollable forces.

Surrounding a central theme of the now-abandoned one-child policy, the film also depicts a chronological panorama of Chinese economic and social development, tracing the immense changes the country has undergone over the last 50 years.

In a previous interview, its director Wang Xiaoshuai noted that "It is a big film in that it covers large stretches of space and time, moving from the 1980s to the present, and from the North to the South of China."

Director Wang Xiaoshuai (L) and young actor Wang Yuan attend the "So Long, My Son" premiere during the 69th Berlin International Film Festival at Berlinale Palace in Berlin, Germany, February 14, 2019. /VCG Photo

Director Wang Xiaoshuai (L) and young actor Wang Yuan attend the "So Long, My Son" premiere during the 69th Berlin International Film Festival at Berlinale Palace in Berlin, Germany, February 14, 2019. /VCG Photo

Wang is not a newcomer to the Berlinale, where he took home the Jury Prize in 2001 for "Beijing Bicycle," and picked up the best screenplay for his 2018 work "In Love We Trust."

Wang revealed that similar themes to his previous works are still closely followed such as "youth" – one of his favorite topics – which is mainly displayed via the development of the family's adopted teenage boy, played by Wang Yuan, member of popular Chinese boy band TFBoys.

A poster for Wang Xiaoshuai's "So Long, My Son". /Photo via Mtime.com

A poster for Wang Xiaoshuai's "So Long, My Son". /Photo via Mtime.com

And this time around, however, the filmmaker described himself as "more of an observer." The drawstrings between the past and the present are pulled tighter in this epoch-spanning drama – his personal biggest project to date.

As Wang said, he would like to reconcile the people and memory of the last decades often recalled by his father with today's young generation, who might show less interest in the past, but are inevitably shaped by it. 

(Cover: Chinese actor Wang Jingchun (L) and actress Yong Mei pose with their Silver Bear trophies for Best Actor and Best Actress for the film "So Long, My Son" following the awarding ceremony of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2019. /VCG Photo)