Chinese director Ying Liang cannot return to his country. On April 28, Ying debuted his film When Night Falls at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. The film is based on the true story of Yang Jia, who killed six policemen after allegedly suffering police brutality, and whose trial stirred controversy and protest over the fairness and due process of the legal system in China. After the film was shown in Jeonju, Ying’s family, in Shanghai, and his wife’s family, in Sichuan, were visited by Chinese authorities, who also tried “to buy the rights to the film.” Ying also learned that he would be arrested if he were to return to mainland China. He currently lives and works in Hong Kong, trying to manage the well-being of his relatives back home (asking them to document every interaction with local authorities), as well the fate of his new film.
When Night Falls has brought unprecedented scrutiny and pressure upon Ying Liang, but it’s not the first time his films have offered a sharply critical view of China’s societal dysfunction. Ying’s debut Taking Father Home examined the breakdown of families in the era of migrant labor. Good Cats views labor exploitation from the opposite end, following a young man’s entry into the inner circle of business and corruption in his hometown. Ying’s best feature, The Other Half, is perhaps the most thematically aligned with When Night Falls, as it also deals explicitly with the failure of China’s legal system to address the problems of its people. New Yorker film critic Richard Brody selected The Other Half as one of his ten best films of the 2000s, heralding Ying’s ability to bring a “laser-like analytical eye to the crossroads of private life and oppressive authority.” This video essay further explores the film and Ying’s ability to bring the “other half” of China into a stark spotlight.
Originally published on Fandor. Read a transcript of the video.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.