Let’s try something. A SupChina film recommendation column, to run every Friday, called Film Friday. This could be fun.
A Big Deal (特殊交易 tèshū jiāoyì), a 2013 short film by 32-year-old director Tingting Yao 姚婷婷, is an exercise in simple storytelling, featuring two lonely characters in an unsparing city who choose opposite strategies to cope with estrangement. It’s easy to root for them, but I found myself just as readily rooting for the movie itself, which tightropes the line between sentiment and sentimental.
The film opens in an alley with a close-up on an acerbic young woman in a black fur coat. “You have any idea how much I make for an hour?” she sneers at a young boy. She works at a karaoke as a girl-for-hire, singing and drinking with men — also lonely, surely, but with the material means to keep their feelings at bay — and throughout the opening scene puts on varying expressions of insouciance to mask her exhaustion. The boy is a potential client: he wants to hire her to go with him to school, as his mother.
“Why me? Look, they’re all over the street,” she says. And that’s the central question — why me? why anyone? — a question that never really does get answered. It’s better that way, because explication ruins the basic truth of desire: we all believe, with little more than misplaced faith, in the possibility that we possess just the quality to make us right for one particular other. It’s this possibility that propels the film forward, in starts, as the woman continues to reject the prospect of taking responsibility while the boy probes at his own assuredness; what if, after all, he idealized the wrong surrogate? What if his desire to be watched over, to be seen, has led him down the wrong alley?
I wish A Big Deal tapped a bit deeper into these uncertainties, as a form of subtlety, but like I said, it’s a simple film. With Mother’s Day coming up, it seems appropriate…for simple reasons. Give it a watch and let us know what you think.