This remarkable, dreamlike, intensely poetic feature is one of the most auspicious debuts of a young Chinese director in recent memory. Set in mystical Guizhou province, the story follows country doctor Chen Sheng, a man with a chequered past. He defended a bereaved gangster from even worse thugs, which landed him in jail for a spell. On his release, he bought into a rural medical practice with elderly and wise country doctor Zhao Daqing. Zhao harbours mementos of her old lover. Chen, post-release, remembers his dead wife Zhang Xi while worrying about his nephew young Weiwei, whom he thinks his ne’er-do-well brother Crazy Face wants to sell.
When Weiwei disappears, Chen heads out to find him, on a trip to riverside Kaili and the mysterious town of Dang Mai. There, his now grown-up son, his dead wife, and mementos from Doctor Zhao all combine in a near-miraculous, dreamlike sequence that transports the film into an enchanted, quasi-Buddhist realm (the Diamond sutra plays a key role) that seems to knit together past, present and future.
Time flows mysteriously but magically: a beautiful tour guide Yangyang materializes, siren-like, in an ancient river; a rock band plays Taiwanese oldies; trains flow through walls; a clock-man wields mastery over chronology. As lost love flows uninhibited and impassioned, Chinese lyric poetry casts its spell over this radiantly impressionistic film.
"Bi’s singular vision bears comparison to those of other geniuses such as Tarkovsky, Sokurov, David Lynch, Luis Buñuel and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Like those auteurs, he achieves what film is best at but seldom accomplishes — a stirring of a deeper consciousness, a glimpse into a reality transcending the everyday." Peter Keough, Boston Globe
"Showing an unobtrusive mastery of camera movement, Bi lends concrete form and rich dramatic life to the Buddhist notion that past, present and future are all equally untenable." Justin Chang, LA Times
"Tranquil but enthralling." Michael Nordine, Village Voice