Starring: Shen Jie, Zhang Min, Zheng Zhenyao
Director: Wu Yigong
Running Time: 96 mins
My Memories Of Old Beijing is a Chinese film about a six year old girl living in a small hutong in 1920s Beijing, experiencing the hustle and bustle of the city as she grows up.
This isn’t the most orthodox drama by Hollywood standards, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have strong power to it regardless. Although its story may not be the most consistently riveting across an hour and a half, My Memories Of Old Beijing works very well as a nostalgic and often even moving look back into the world of the past, and its mellower atmosphere proves fantastic in making for an emotionally engrossing watch.
Let’s start off with our main character, a young six year old girl named Yingzi. While many films that take a nostalgic look back at the past may have good emotion, there’s something that having a young character such as this that brings an extra level of heart to proceedings. Above all, seeing a city and a lifestyle through the eyes of such a a young character means that you’re being given a relatively innocent and rose-tinted perspective, something that always makes for a more heartwarming watch than brutal reality.
The interesting thing about this film is that, although it clearly identifies all of the problems that normal people in Beijing during the 1920s suffered from, living in relative poverty, there’s no overbearing sadness or heavy drama, as we see the lifestyle in a light that shows people as content and able to go about their business without extreme anguish. Again, from the perspective of a little girl, the nice is always going to be more prominent than the nasty, but it’s another element of the film that reinforces its more heartfelt, nostalgic atmosphere.
And that’s what I really appreciated about this film, and was able to be so moved by, that it’s willing to portray the past in a brighter light than the reality may be, making for a film that has enough heart to be genuinely moving, even when the plot itself may not be quite as riveting as you may expect.
There enlies my biggest issue with the film. Although very well directed and acted to give it the nostalgic feel, I can’t say that I was ever fully engrossed by My Memories Of Old Beijing. In part, that’s down to the fact that the film isn’t intended as your typical narrative drama, more as a showcase of a lifestyle and past, so there isn’t the same opportunity to really get to grips with the deepest of emotions.
In part, however, it’s down to the fact that story doesn’t really manage to keep itself from being an episodic tale of life in a hutong, as we follow our young lead around town as she encounters various characters that show what life was like back then, but not enough to really string together an entire plot that’s as enthralling as should be the case.
Overall, I enjoyed the nostalgic, heartwarming and lighter qualities of My Memories Of Old Beijing, as it offers a different sort of watch to what we’re used to seeing from Hollywood, all the while proving an intriguing look into the past. However, it’s still not the most riveting film of all, simply because it fails to provide a plot with enough consistency and depth throughout to really engross you beyond the emotionally moving nature of its nostalgia, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.