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Tranquility of death inspires tale of empathy

Updated: 2023-10-12 08:25 ( China Daily Global )
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Huang Lei (center) plays a middle-class man in the film All Ears, who suffers the passing away of his father. CHINA DAILY

All Ears director tells how she formulated idea for film about eulogy writer at cemetery, Xu Fan reports.

In 1984, when Liu Jiayin was just 3 years old, she accompanied her grandfather to the funeral of one of his colleagues at a cemetery in western Beijing, etching in her mind the memory of her first visit to the burial place.

With the passing of her grandparents, Liu says she found herself becoming familiar with the cemetery, a place she says never felt gloomy or somber to her.

On the contrary, Liu was captivated by its distinctive scenery, which she says evokes tranquility and provides an opportunity to observe people from different walks of life dealing with loss.

"Over the years, I have witnessed its changes and expansion," she tells China Daily during a telephone interview. "A small pond has been dug and filled with koi. Several pavilions have also been built for tomb sweepers to rest."

While wandering around the cemetery about seven years ago, a character — a middle-aged scriptwriter — began to take shape in her imagination.

Liu perceived the man as having a delicate face but troubled by his life not going to plan. However, the down-and-out scriptwriter stumbles upon a financial opportunity to write eulogies.

He approaches each one with the utmost dedication, going to great lengths to interview the loved ones and acquaintances of the departed. Through their shared memories, he uncovers the true essence of the deceased, allowing him to craft heartfelt eulogies.

Liu started writing All Ears in 2019, and in 2022 convinced well-known actor Hu Ge to play the protagonist, Wen Shan. The in-depth exploration of the meaning of life and death, as well as its unique narrative, helped the movie win the best director and best actor categories at the Golden Goblet Awards, the highest honors of the 25th Shanghai International Film Festival, earlier this year.

Hu Ge (left) plays the movie's protagonist, a scriptwriter-turned eulogy writer, with a young man played by Wu Lei, an imaginary friend the lonely protagonist believes lives with him. CHINA DAILY

Featuring a stellar cast including Wu Lei and Qi Xi, the movie opened with a score of 7.5 points out of 10 on the popular review aggregator Douban when it was released in domestic theaters on Sept 9.

Set in bustling Beijing, the film follows the protagonist, who lives in a shabby apartment, as he delves into the lives of various individuals. From a busy man who neglects the emotional needs of his late father to an elderly woman's courageous battle against cancer, the protagonist also finds a way to deal with his own problems and reorient the direction of his life.

Liu — an associate literature professor at the Beijing Film Academy — says she hopes the movie conveys the powerful message that anyone, whether average or ordinary, can become the protagonist of their own social sphere.

"In Asian cultures, societal stereotypes may favor those who achieve success in their careers or related fields. However, I hope the movie can help a wider audience understand that every person, even those who are ordinary, will find that their journey through life is not in vain if they persist with their own beliefs," explains the director.

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