One Second (2020)

It doesn’t always work, but Zhang Yimou’s delayed new picture, about a man trying to find a reel of film that contains a shot of his long-lost daughter, features stunning performances from Zhang Yi and newcomer Liu Haocun.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,119

Dir. Zhang Yimou
2020 | China | Drama | 104 mins | 2.35:1 | Mandarin
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Cast: Zhang Yi, Liu Haocun, Fan Wei
Plot: China during the Cultural Revolution. A prisoner has escaped from his labour camp to see a particular newsreel. But an orphan girl has stolen precisely this film roll. Meanwhile, the villagers are waiting eagerly for the screening to begin.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
International Sales: Huanxi Media Group

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Hope, Struggle, Cinema

Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

Anticipation for Zhang Yimou’s new period drama heightened after its expected bow at the Berlinale in 2019 was cut short, with the film being pulled out at the last minute due to ‘technical reasons’. 

After more than a year’s delay, it is finally ready (read: approved by the Chinese government).  Apart from China, the film hasn’t received any international distribution yet, so fingers crossed that the world will get to see the film soon. 

One Second is not exactly a top-tier picture by Zhang, but it should please most fans hoping to see the director return to making more films set in the context of the Cultural Revolution. 

In the film, a man who managed to escape from a re-education labour camp, chances upon a young female vagabond with whom he strikes a love-hate relationship.  A separated reel of film connects both of them. 

The teen is played by newcomer Liu Haocun who gives a stunning performance and is another in a long line of young talented actresses (e.g. Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Zhou Dongyu, etc.) that Zhang has discovered over three decades.  Zhang Yi, also exceptional, is the man who is desperate to find the reel of film that he learnt might contain a shot of his long-lost daughter. 

A tale of an unlikely friendship and a melodramatic exploration of how photographic images can be vestiges of memories, One Second mostly works, despite an epilogue that feels slightly superfluous and awkward. 

The film is beautifully shot by Zhang’s regular cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding, and do look out for an eye-opening segment where the local community comes together to repair a seemingly destroyed reel of film.

Grade: B



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