One of the first rock 'n’ roll films ever authorized by the Chinese Film Bureau, the slight but charming Follow Follow is not a docu about Beijing’s youthful music scene, glimpsed only in passing, but a wry, fetching tale about a lonely girl whose adoration of Kurt Cobain leads her to write a song and sing with a band. This one-man show won young writer-director-editor-composer Peng Lei, the frontman of Beijing’s well-known band New Pants, the best director nod in the Shanghai Film Festival’s Asia New Talent competition. Having the earmarks of a local underground hit, it could climb international festival charts thanks to its quirky point of view on Chinese society that says a lot unemphatically.
It’s as important for Chinese kids to be cool and expressionless as it is for their Western counterparts, at least those whose way of life revolves around pop, rock and grunge concerts. A skinny girl called Even (Zhao Yiwen), who lives in a shabby room on the far edge of town, wears her leather jacket like a badge as she negotiates the summer between high school and college. She burns incense in front of a poster of her Nirvana idol, praying to him to save her from boredom. One day, courtesy of a small, unassuming special effect, he arrives in a flying saucer. Briefly explaining he’s tired after traveling all the way from Seattle, he lies down on her bed, his long blond hair obscuring his face. And there he remains for the rest of the film, a consoling fantasy that doesn’t keep the girl from the more concrete attraction of a cute guitarist (Nakano Akira) with a collection of vintage electric guitars acquired on Internet, which he naively claims belonged to musicians like Paul McCartney and Sid and Nancy. This is typical of the script’s low-key humor, and it needs no further comment to elicit a smile.
In the same way, Peng Lei’s direction is cleverly off-the-cuff and unpredictable. Just when Even seems like a talentless groupie who can’t learn to play her baby pink guitar in a fancy music school, she suddenly writes a melodious little ditty in Zen-like English on the computer (“After party, it’s time home”) which she sings with the aplomb of a seasoned pop star. It’s an affirmative moment for a girl who risked being lost in an impersonal world.
Maybe speaking for the director, Even’s boyfriend complains that Chinese rock lacks originality and is just following Western models. In a moment of reflection, Cobain also wonders why the Chinese like rock 'n’ roll so much, and whether they even understand it. Are they attracted out of curiosity, not passion for the music? Will they lose interest when they grow up? Or perhaps it’s just a fashion, and fashion, of course, means following others.
The young actors are well cast, particularly Zhao Yiwen and her best friend (billed as Panda Jennifer), who project distinct personalities in spite of minimal dialogue and the fact that they maintain a cool silence and blank expression throughout the film.
Venue: Shanghai Film Festival
Production companies: 22Film
Cast: Zhao Yiwen, Nakano Akira, Panda Jennifer
Director: Peng Lei
Screenwriter: Peng Lei
Producer: Jianer Gan
Director of photography: Andrea Cavazzuti
Editor: Peng Lei
Music: Peng Lei
Sales Agent: 22Film
No rating, 95 minutes