Sometimes, a movie that would be little more than a Movie of the Week in America can seem refreshing because it’s from another country. Wei Zhang’s “Destiny” falls in to this category, giving us a little glimpse in to how autism is discussed and dealt with in China.
“Destiny” was screened as part of the 2017 Cinequest Film Festival. At the time of this writing, it did not have an American distribution deal.
Just outside Hong Kong, in the city of Shenzhen, Lin (Liang Jingke), a young mother in modern China, has one goal: to get her nine-year-old autistic son Xi He (Jun Feng) an education at a “normal school” so he can live an independent life. She races between her low-level bank job and damage control at Xi He’s school, where his behavioral problems [biting his fellow students, stabbing them with his pencil, peeing out in the hallway] are causing increasing outrage from the other parents. Lin’s husband, who barely scrapes by as a HVAC installer and repairman, is often no help, and even suggests they have another child, so they have someone else to help take care of Xi He, a suggestion Lin will not tolerate, for reasons that will become clear by the end reel.
Between “Destiny” and his previous film “Factory Boss,” which told the story of the workers at a Chinese sweatshop, director Wei Zhang seemingly wants to be a modern day Chinese version of Stanley Kramer, bringing to light relevant social issues that are not regularly covered by cinema or the media in general. It’s a fine line to walk. Get too preachy and you risk losing your audience. Don’t push far enough and you risk boring your audience. Thankfully, Zhang delivers his story strongly with compelling characters, with only two true misses, once towards the middle of the movie when the storyline of two secondary characters is revealed, and again at the very very end of the film. The overall storyline remains riveting throughout, in large part to the exceptional casting of the two leads. At first, it is hard to understand Lin’s intractability to her needing Xi He to go to a public school. Frustrating, at times, until the reveal of the obstinance. But it is the winning personalities of Liang and Feng that keep us engaged. Their story is ultimately sad, not because of anything bad specifically happening to them, but sad in how Xi He and those like him with autism are still treated as poorly as Americans with autism were treated twenty and thirty years ago.
As an American, I also saw the movie as a fascinating window in to another society. What little I do know about China comes from their filmed entertainment that comes to our shores, and most of those have been costume dramas and wuxia romance films of Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou or the modern Hong Kong films of Andrew Lau and Stephen Chow that might not accurately represent life in China today. “Destiny” shows us that much of modern Chinese urban living seems to be almost exactly like American urban living, and one can only wonder if it’s a lack of access to seeing how life and society is for them that keeps our two nations as what the modern kids call “frenemies.” It might seem a hippie notion to voice a desire for a better understanding between people of different backgrounds, but in the current world climate, this writer cannot see this as a bad thing.Rating: B