Running Time: 99 mins.
Release Date: March 15th, 2019
Director: Bai Xue
Writer: Bai Xue (Screenplay),
Starring: Huang Yao, Sunny Sun, Carmen Soup, Ni Hongjie, Elena Kong, Kai Chi Liu, Jiao Gang,
The Crossing is a coming-of-age film set to the background of a smuggling ring operating between Hong Kong and mainland China. It is a remarkably confident debut from writer/director Bai Xue and captures a new form of living what with the vagaries of living a transnational life and the opportunities travel affords.
Sixteen-year-old Peipei (Huang Yao) is a kid who lives in Shenzhen with her mother (Ni Hongjie) but attends a high school in Hong Kong, a privilege granted by her father (Kai Chi Liu) who comes from the island. As a result of her parent’s former union, Peipei can catch a train between cities, effectively crossing a border every day. Customs officials pay her little mind because of her school uniform, innocent face and quiet demeanour.
Peipei may look unworldly but she is ambitious and she earns money from small rackets such as making phone covers she sells to classmates. However, this is chump change and she needs cash fast because she has to fund a Christmas trip to a hot spring in Japan being organised by her best friend Jo (Carmen Soup), a girl from Hong Kong’s wealthier milieu. A part-time waitressing job in Hong Kong and pocket money from her father isn’t going to cut it but Peipei’s fortunes change when she meets Jo’s boyfriend Hao (Sunny Sun), a handsome working-class lad who works as a smuggler. With a foot on both sides of the border, Peipei is the perfect vessel to smuggle iPhones to mainland China and she is taken under the wing of the leader of the smuggling operation, Sister Hua (Elena Kong). Thanks to Hua’s ruthless running of the gang and the rough-hewn motherly attention she gives Peipei, the girl gains confidence and money with increasingly important jobs but Peipei loses sight of the dangers of her activities.
This is a story of crossings as Peipei becomes an individual and tries to make the crossing from being dependent upon others to independence.
Peipei’s growth comes turns into a challenge over conventional gender roles as Xue contrasts Peipei with her mother, who is dependent upon men she meets while gambling, and a best friend whose affluence has blunted her own ambitions and made her dependent upon her family who provide her money. It is a point hammered home by the fact she bonds with Sister Hua, someone who remains independent of men and in charge of the gang.
Initially inspired to earn money for her holiday in Japan, Peipei finds her view of the world growing with the gang and so enriches herself monetarily and in terms of her own sense of self by seizing on whatever assets she has which will help her earn money. Those assets are a sensible attitude, smarts, and her school girl look which she utilises during smuggling runs. Already at an age where she is trying to carve out her own identity free from others, smuggling offers an opportunity to be independent and we see her grow in confidence with each small job that she does. The fact she insists on keeping it small and even rebuffs any potential romance as she stays focussed is another indication of how in control of herself she is. However, circumstances intervene sometimes and her vulnerability is laid bare by a rocky family background and moments in her illicit activities when she is threatened by men. That she comes through these moments is a testament to her character but it all adds up to damage to her character which frays later in the story.
For all this, Bai Xue’s smart direction ensures we never lose sight of the fact that this is a girl we are watching and how her changes are powered by youthful ambition and desires all teens have. Material objects and freedom await those with the grit and intelligence and daring to take them as shown in montages and cross-cutting where the smuggling jobs that Peipei does are linked to the rewards she gets. The addictive risk-reward factor comes out in the bouncy rhythm and moments when the soundtrack is awash with upbeat electronica as well as the visuals but we are aware that the biggest reward for Peipei is her change in character, moments which are highlighted when there are freeze frames on her face as she commits to a momentous decision. The handheld camera, so useful for those tense scenes where she passes customs agents, capture Peipei’s face and body language as she begins to master herself and understand the world around her and a determination becomes evident.
There is an exciting energy to this newfound freedom which is highlighted by the bright lights of Hong Kong and it is easily relayed by perfectly by Bai Xue’s confident and controlled direction which delivers this universal story of growth and an increasingly universal story of transnational life in an absorbing manner. That this is a debut film marks out Bai Xue as someone to follow.