2023.10.25 [Event Reports]
Taking Aim at an Era of Change


©2023 TIFF

One of the great subjects of Chinese cinema for the past 20 years has been the country’s turbulent changeover from total state control of the economy in the ’70s to a more laissez-faire model starting in the ’80s. We can now add to this sub-genre the debut film by Gao Peng, A Long Shot, which world premiered on October 24 in the Competition section of the 36th Tokyo International Film Festival.
The film is based on a real incident that happened in 1995 at a ferroalloy factory in northeastern China, where work had been suspended for some time due to financial problems. With most of the workforce laid off and little else in town to provide jobs, the factory is constantly under siege by thieves who strip the facilities of anything that can be sold on the black market. The security staff, which is still nominally employed by the factory though not getting paid, does its best to prevent the pilfering, but some members take bribes from the thieves just to get by.
The exception is Gu (Zu Feng), a former champion sharpshooter who was forced to retire from competition due to hearing loss. Gu takes his job quite seriously, and refuses to take bribes. This makes him something of a pariah within the organization—a man who can’t be fully trusted even if he is admired for his integrity.
During the packed post-screening Q&A for the film, Gao admitted he was born too late to have appreciated the era fully, but he does have faint memories. “After I grew up, I began to understand the significance of the ’90s in China, and I wanted to delve further into the history of that decade,” he told the audience. “I also looked into athletes from that time, and found that they were recruited very young and underwent strenuous training in order to gain a place on the national team, which would make them major figures in society. The ambience of those years had something to do with the lives of these athletes, and I tried to juxtapose these elements so as to shine a light on the decade.”
In the movie, Gu’s past as a potential champion is well-known throughout the community. While he tries desperately to downplay it, in secret he is refashioning a long-barreled pistol he acquired into a competitive shooting gun, a tool that becomes integral to the plot. This eventually leads to a violent incident that, as TIFF Programming Director Ichiyama Shozo put it, has become “infamous” in the recent annals of China.
When asked how he prepared for this role, Zu said, “I needed to understand the essence of this character, and I saw the story as one of growth, which requires sacrifice and bending the rules, departing from one’s established beliefs. I don’t think the movie is a definitive answer to the problems shown, but it’s thought-provoking. Also, I trained in sharpshooting and lived through that era myself, so I had some affinity for the character.”
The movie’s touching melodrama is supplied by Gu’s relationship to Geng (Zhou Zhengjie), the son of a divorced small-time businesswoman who is attracted to him. Geng is part of a gang of punks who regularly raid the factory for metal parts. After catching him in the act, Gu, without telling Geng’s mother, attempts to steer him toward a more responsible path, but it proves to be difficult.
Zhou Zhengjie said that, having been born in 2000, he found it a “challenge” to play someone who lived through those times. Earlier he revealed that A Long Shot is his first film and that Gao auditioned him when he was still attending university. “But the setting of the movie was familiar to me,” he added. “I’m from a rural area that was supported by coal mining, and it looks much the same.” He admitted that he struggled with the character’s “interior life,” which was conflicted by clashing loyalties, but in the end, “what impressed me about [Geng] was his grit.”
It was obvious from the body language and tone of speech during the Q&A that these three men had fallen into a relaxed though polite relationship based on seniority, with Zu as the seasoned veteran, Gao as the newly minted artist, and Zhou as the eager rookie. Zu got the biggest laugh of the evening when he recalled meeting Gao for the first time. “I liked the script and was interested in meeting such a young director,” he said. “But when I finally met him, I found he wasn’t really that young.”
Q&A Session: Competition
A Long Shot
Guests: Gao Peng (Director/Screenplay), Zu Feng (Actor), Zhou Zhengjie (Actor)

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