Nostalgic Primitivism as a Quest for Meaning
Postmen in the Mountains celebrates the primitivism of rural Chinese culture. It is the classic ��return to nature�� story which idealizes a sort of harmony with the earth, and ignores the strife and monotony of agricultural village-life. Huo's twist, however, lies in the fact that the two main characters, the Father and Son, themselves are not ��pure mountain-dwellers�� but rather they stand as guardians, allowing the primitive way of life to endure.
There is undeniably a reactionary element in the Father and Son's actions. The Son, after some gentle scolding, rejects the conveniences of entertainment and transportation offered by modernity, and later, accepts his Father's customs and occupation without question. Overall, however, the two of them, by virtue of their living in the city, are conservative: adamantly resisting the invasion of technological progress, but not abandoning what they already have for the sake of a "purer" existence.
The Postmen revere the mountain culture, and suffer to ensure its survival. I believe the "coming of age" narrative that pervades the film serves more as a tool for exhibiting the sanctity of the mountains than as a subject for the film itself: the importance of prolonging rural China is so great, that a boy predisposed toward modernity would sacrifice his western music and livelihood for the sake of the mountain-dwellers. The culmination of their "selflessness," and the height of reactionary sacrifice between the two generations comes when the son decides that he will not even marry a girl from the mountains, for it would mean depriving her of her sacred existence, as the Father did of the Mother. The new generation takes a step further, but backward.
The problem with the film lies in the fact that it idealizes rural China
to the point of being a fairy-tale. It entirely disregards the nuisances
of the country that originally made modernization so desirable. On film,
as in our imaginations, we see vibrant colors, snapshots of romantic simplicity;
intricate, incomparable landscapes, but fail factor in insects, poor shelter;
the lack of running water, proper shelter, and medical assistance Subsistence
in general is a day to day struggle, and leaves little time for the supposed
tranquil contentment associated with rural life in Huo's film.
The ��Past Remade�� in the Mountains
|Huo Jianqi's Postmen in the Mountains (1997) is a movie that appeals to
most audiences. It is an escapist anecdote that allows viewers to get away
from the harshness of reality, and slip into an idyllic world. Technically,
Postmen in the Mountains is a masterpiece. The carefully measured use of
action and stillness grabs the viewer and immerses him into Huo��s heavenly
world in the mountains. The music has also been carefully constructed to
provide a sensual feast for the audience. The movie itself is about a journey:
father accompanies son as he introduces (initiates) him to the community
of people he will be serving as postman. Beautifully shot and conceived,
the movie is deeply allegorical on many levels.
Rural settings are often associated with the past, while urban settings are associated with the modern. Thus, by romanticizing the rural, simple lifestyle of mountain people Huo is actually (re)viewing China's recent, messy past through rose-tinted glasses. The Chinese have experienced several decades of turbulence in their recent past. Director Huo, in a sense, reshapes China's past and presents it to a Chinese audience who, according to Jung, will respond emphatically on an unconscious level to this idea of constancy, and culture being preserved and passed on in perfect harmony because it compensates for the trauma caused by the recent past. However, the ease with which the son takes on the father's role as postman, and rejects modernity is a little unsettling. It is almost pernicious for the director to suggest that the Chinese should just ignore their recent past, for it has much to teach them.
The dichotomy of beautiful and ugly, good and bad should not be split between rural and urban. You cannot say that rural life is the best, while urban life is horrible. No, the dichotomy applies separately to both. Rural and urban are both good and bad at the same time, with each having its own strengths and weaknesses. Huo's inability to acknowledge this fact in his film diminishes its value. While escapist fantasies may be entertaining, they should not send out erroneous messages to a susceptible audience. Particularly an audience that is still recovering from the trauma of its recent past.
An Exile to a Fantasy World
People who live in nature have a more attractive way of life that separates them from the lifestyle of the city. Postman in the Mountains, directed by Huo Jianqi, provides a positive, yet fantastic at times, view of rural life in China that is meant to make people critique their own style of living. This film follows the trend of many Chinese movies made in the 1980s to 1990s by showing ��the awesomeness of nature's mere presence�� (Rey, 38). Even though Huo Jianqi shows the audience the beauty of living in nature, most of theses positive views created through the plot and characters seem like they would only exist in an ideal world. The film is successful, however, in its goal to show the attractiveness of rural life despite the fantasy world in which this story exists at times.
One of the main things the audience finds attractive when watching this film is the simplicity of life in rural China. When you look at the lives of the central family in the movie, you see that they are very plain by modern standards. They do not have many material possessions; the only thing that the family owns that resembles something from the modern world is a small radio that belongs to the son. Their lives revolve around their work and responsibilities. This is clearly visible in the father character and his devotion to his job. His focus in life is to do what is expected of him as a postman and support his family. This kind of life may seem attractive to people who live in urban settings because this simple lifestyle is stripped of all meaninglessness until all that is left is responsibility. It is hard to believe, however, that many people would be content with this kind of life. The audience has to suspend their disbelief to a son that would rather preserve a tradition of an older generation and seek a life of hard work in the mountains that to move to the city with hopes of becoming prosperous. The film did not describe this common trend of abandoning the rural way of life for the city because the director wants people to do the opposite.
The importance of family is also portrayed in this movie as an attractive aspect of rural life. This film is considered by many to be a coming of age film. The central plot of the story is how the father and son finally bond as the son takes over his father's job as the postman. The three day journey teaches the son many valuable lessons and is very emotional for the father as he sees his past alive through his son. At the conclusion of the movie when the father learns who his son is, he is no longer worried about whether or not his son will be able to take on the responsibility of the postman. The family is much closer as a result of the son taking the job. This is noticed when the son refers to his father as dad for the first time towards the end of the mail route. This is pleasing to anyone, but particularly to people in urban locations where the disconnect between generations is larger.
Cinematography is also used to enhance the attractiveness in rural life. The story is filmed with the characters immersed in beautiful shots of nature all around them. The beauty is sometimes so extreme that it seems they are not living in the same world as us. Life in this setting would no doubt be very appealing to someone surrounded by the gray walls of a city. Life in the country does not always look as magical as portrayed in this film, but the scenery is very striking to the audience. Although this film suspends the disbelief of its audience in many different ways, it does portray the actualities of rural life in China positively. According to Rey Chow, back to nature is always a form of exile. Hou Jainqi wants us to exile ourselves from the meaninglessness of modernity to live lives of simplicity and beauty.
Irony, Lies, & Idealism
Huo Jianqi's film Postmen in the Mountains attempts to portray traditional, simple life as a superior option to the modern industrial option the 20th and 21st centuries offer. However, this approach meets with several obstacles, which I think ultimately hurt the credibility of the film and its message.
The first problem is the premise of the film: a rural postman turns his route over to his son, and in the course of the route that inaugurates this change of hands, the son - who starts with a modern bias - learns the values of traditional Chinese living, and the ideals of rural culture. Huo Jianqi portrays the villagers in the film as poor, but perfectly happy because of their ideals; they wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, the opposite is true, and the Chinese have flooded to cities by the millions in the hopes of escaping the poverty they had in rural life.
This massive disparity between portrayal and reality begs a question as to what Mr. Hou's intention was. It would appear that Postmen represents an imposition of personal opinion, and perhaps even personal ignorance, on a wider historical narrative, in which case I can only surmise that the intention was not to say ��this is how it is�� but ��this is how it should be.�� Following this assumption, the issue of factual truth disappears, in that this isn't a historical film so much as a philosophical one. The point isn't that the Chinese people enjoyed life more in the mountains, free from modernity or industrial culture, it is that that lifestyle is more philosophically sound, or to put it another way, it is more ethically laudable. In the modern era with a freer society, people, and particularly artists, are free to criticise culture on idealistic and ethical grounds with little or no regard for the practical implications, should their philosophies ever be put to action. This school of thought leads to the creation of films such as Postmen in the Mountains.
Another major point of contention for Mr. Huo in regards to the issue of tradition versus modernity is the very medium through which this concept is broadcast. Film is a new and especially technological art form, and that Mr. Huo is using such a modern medium to denounce modernity is ironic, at least. Why should this be a film, instead of, say, a musical composition. Music is a far older and less technologically dependent medium than film, so it would make more ideological sense for the ��anti-modernity�� message to be promoted using music rather than film. On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that this irony actually enhances Mr. Huo's message. Instead of being interpreted as Huo Jianqi biting the hand that feeds him, the use of film could be interpreted as a statement that ��I believe in tradition so much that I would give up that which sustains me for it��. That is a far more compelling argument, and is probably what Mr. Huo meant.
Finally, there is the idealisation of rural life which is an issue. Obviously life in the mountains was not as perfect as Mr. Huo depicts it; if had been, the Chinese people would not have flooded into the cities to pursue prosperity. I think that the tradition versus modernity theme would have been more strongly conveyed had the shortcomings of rural life been highlighted. Had there been a sense of ��traditional people have their problems, but they know how to solve them,�� there would have been a more palpable sense that traditional rural life was really something worth preserving. As is, Mr. Huo constructs a beautiful but flimsy nostalgia that does not serve his purposes nearly as well.
Though in principle, Mr. Huo has it right to issue a pro-traditional argument, and he constructs a beautiful and enjoyable film, a well bolstered support for that argument is lacking. The disparity between film and reality, the irony of the medium, and the perverted nostalgia presented in Postmen in the Mountains ultimately weaken the case against modernity, and mislead Western viewers.
The Simple Life minus Paris Hilton
A simple life, an idyllic life is what most of the world desires. Money
supposedly drives men to great lengths and actions, once they attain such
wealth, it is simplicity they seek with their means. In The Postmen in
the Mountain, the two postmen are a representation of this desire to pursue
a life without the complications of the modern world. It is easy to see
the father as one who achieved a simple life, and is being forced back
into the modern world and the complexities that world entails. For years,
the father has been living in the "mystical" realm of ancient
China. His antiquiated [spelling, antiquated] delivery route made him
a staple in the lives of the communities which he walked. He could be
considered by all as a "rich" man. His life is rich because
of the interactions he shares with the villagers to he delivers.
The underlying feeling that one receives as the two walk through the mountain is the wonder found in the simplicity. It is little wonder the son wants this position, and his father holds onto it, even with his arthritis. Maybe it is overidealized, but the stark beauty of those mountains in this story makes everyone want a simple life as a postman in the mountains.
The Bond Between Father and Son
The relationship between a father and his son is a very unique and special bond. Usually at a young age, the son wants to emulate his father and often has dreams of becoming like his father in terms of life style and work. When I was young, I wanted to go to the same college as my father and becoming a lawyer like my father. Although my college aspirations had changed, to this day, I still want to become a lawyer like my father. I also want to become a lawyer because I enjoy the work, but that is not the subject of this paper. Because of my aspirations of taking on the occupation similar to that of my father, I felt a strong connection to the movie.
Postmen in the mountains is an emotionally poignant movie in which, throughout a long arduous journey, the son becomes a man and takes on the occupation of his father. Although they are father and son, it would be the first time that they would actually spend what I will call "quality bonding time" together. I would like to differentiate normal time being spent and quality time being spent because the father and son did spend time together, but because of the atmosphere of detachment between the father and son in the beginning of the movie, I am compelled to speculate that such bonding time was never made available.
The son never hated his father, as we learn in the movie he actually feared him, but never had an incredibly strong emotional attachment to him. The son always worried about not being able to live up to his father's hopes, but would later on be able to surpass his father's hopes and finally be able to become the postman of the mountains. The father on the other hand was afraid that his son would not recognize him as a father. This too was realized when the son called his father ��dad.��
It is not unreasonable to think that one will not be able to live up to his or her parent's dreams. In high school, many parents pressure their children to achieve goals that they themselves could not. In this movie, the father asserts a form of pressure by practically forcing his son to take his position as the postman. This occupation for the father is his entire life and through entrusting his job to his son, it shows that the father cared and trusted his son so much that he felt his son was the only person able to continue the job. The seriousness of the father's job is seen in the scene on the bridge. When the letters are blown away, the father, along with his dog, chase after the letters as if they are treasures. (The dog plays a very significant role in the movie, but for the purposes of this paper, the dog will not be discussed further) The immediate reaction to almost risk his health in order to retrieve the notes shows that the father took his job extremely seriously. Handing his position to his son only then has the audience realize that this job is the father's life.
The traditional concept of a family is that, at a young age the father and mother care for the son and when the son becomes a man, he switches roles and becomes the one who takes care of the family. This journey that the son partakes in with his dad is very much a microcosm of what many families in the world go through. Sons fear that they will not win the respect and praise of their fathers. It is only when that goal is achieved that the bond between father and son changes. The change is an incredibly emotional one because, for the first time, the son will now take care of the father and must take care of himself now because he no longer has the crutch of his father's care to keep him standing.
Mountains of Meaning in Huo Jianqi's Film
|Huo Jianqi's 1997 film Postmen in the Mountains tells the story of an
aging father training his son to assume his job as a postman for the villagers
of the mountain of Hunan. On the surface it is a deceivingly simple film,
a straightforward and touching story about the bonding of a father and son
as they share an extensive journey, along with their dog, Lao'er, across
80 kilometers of mountainous terrain. But, on a deeper level, the movie
contains layers of insight. The relationship between the father and the
son explored by Huo Jianqi is very complex, and the conversations they share
as the film progresses reveal many profound insights that transcend mere
family matters and may be applied to human life on larger scale.
Indeed, conversation between the father and son serves as the primary catalyst for advancing the storyline in this movie. Over the duration of its ninety-minute length, Postmen in the Mountains offers very little in terms of action and spectacle. Rather, the majority of the film takes place in the mountains, where the two characters are often walking alone for long stretches of time, engulfed in the tranquility of nature. This creates an atmosphere of solitude and reflection, an appropriate backdrop for the interaction of the father and the son through out the film, which is also one of reflection.
In reflecting on their different life experiences, the father and the son, who at the onset of their journey are practically strangers, come to know each other better and learn about elements of each other's lives to which they were previously unexposed. The son, who initially respects his father, but feels estranged from him and frightened by him, learns from observing his interactions with the villagers of Hunan that his father is actually a very noble and caring man. He realizes that the sentimental value that comes from getting to know one's clients personally is greater than the prestige that comes being a high ranking official in the postal business, a position his father refused to assume in his career. Likewise, the father is able to learn from his son about daily life in his home village, and is able to experience vicariously much of his son's childhood, which he was previously obliged to miss because of dedication to his post route. In this way, both characters share a symbiotic relationship, each gaining something from the other.
This symbiotic relationship is best exemplified in a moving scene in which the son helps carry his father across a river when he is unable to cross it himself due to a leg problem he has developed from fording cold rivers so often. In addition to showing the attachment that has formed between the father and son, this scene is symbolic of a symbiotic cycle in which the father and son exist. Just as the father once carried the son when he was young, the son is now able to carry the father.
While this exploration of familial relationships is doubtlessly an important aspect of Postmen in the Mountains, the film also sheds insight onto human life, advocating the view that the simplistic life found from living off of the land in nature is superior to that of the modern city life. This idea is promoted in a scene towards the end of the film in which the father is speaking to the son, who questions why it is worth living in the mountains, where one has nothing. To this the father responds that the people in the mountains have ideals, and that without ideals life is meaningless. He even goes as far as to say that the people of the mountains are the descendents the gods. Scenes such like these reveal that in addition to telling a sentimental story, Hou Jianqi is also trying to express a message about the idealism of primitive living.
In the end, Postmen in the Mountains succeeds on both levels. It is a moving story about the bonding of a father and a son, and also a glorification of simplistic living.
The Second Son
The film Postmen in the Mountains focuses on one particular Chinese family. When watching the film in English, the viewer might immediately recognize that the film focuses particularly on the father and son. However, the original Chinese title for the film is Nashan Naren Nagou, which, loosely translated, means ��That Man, That Dog, That Mountain.�� Truthfully, this film really does focus on one Chinese family in particular, but the viewer should realize that the family dog plays a very important role as a member of this family.
The dog��s name says it all. They call him ��Lao'er��, which means ��son
number two.�� The family in this film only has one human son, who later
accompanies his Father into the rural mountains as a postman. But Lao'er,
the ��second son��, has accompanied the Father on his journey ever since
the human son was a newborn infant. At the beginning of the film, the
Father mentions that he did not trust his Son on their first journey together
into the mountains. This had not been the case with Laoer. Lao'er had
always been loyal to the Father, just as if he were the father's own son.
He had always been obedient and helpful, and the father had always trusted
Lao'er acts as a hero in another scene in the film as well. Once during a storm, the letters that the postmen carry up to the mountains begin to blow away in the wind. The Father runs after the letters, trying desperately to catch him. But he is too old and weak, and he cannot get a firm grasp on any of the letters. Suddenly, Lao'er hears the call of duty and jumps into the air, catching the letters in his mouth. Lao'er fulfills his duty as a faithful "son" once again.
Near the beginning of the film, the Son claims that Lao'er is "a wizard." He even claims that Lao'er can read his Father's mind. Lao'er is pictured traveling with the Father when the Son is an infant, so the Son must be able to remember his beloved dog since infancy. Looking back on his long relationship with his Father, the Son realizes that Lao'er has always been there. Lao'er has never left his Father's side. They have lived together and journeyed together for so long that Lao'er has acquired the ability to read his Father's mind. Perhaps he is not just a part of the family�perhaps this makes him even closer than family.
Throughout the film, Lao'er is depicted as a family member. One can see this very clearly whenever the Son leaves for his job in the mountains. Lao'er is so used to leading the father up the mountains that he does not know what to do when the Son goes it alone. He looks back in forth with sheer confusion. His loyalty is divided - should he follow the Father, whom he's been with all his life, or the Son, his brother who needs his guidance? Finally, at the very end of the film, Lao'er makes his decision. The Son prepares to leave for the mountains, and again Lao'er is unsure of what to do. The Father pleads with him, "Go, he needs your guidance." And like the good son that he is, Lao'er runs to his brother's aid, ready to take on anything that might cross their path as they journey into the mountains together.
Growing Older with Postmen in the Mountains
A father and son (who do not have proper names) are the primary vehicles through which Huo Jianqi imparts the story in his film, Postmen in the Mountains. It is a bittersweet account of a father and son whose time together on a postal route is characterized by tender moments of bonding and new beginnings. As the movie begins, each sets out on a new stage in his life, and by the film's finish, each has completed a rite of passage. The film is a slow paced tribute to the natural cycle of life, beginning with the son's boyhood nearing completion when he assumes his father's role as postman.
The film's opening scenes begin not only the movie, but also the figurative and literal journey the father and son must take. The viewer sees the two men packing the mail bag, and talking��preparing themselves both physically and emotionally for the new phases of life they are individually about to embark upon. The father gives his son much useful advice about the mail route, his duties as postman, the people he will encounter (all of which is new to the son, who has spent his life rooted in a community). The viewer gets the sense that this journey along the postal route��the first for the son, the last for the father��will be one of great significance. It is not simply the son's training for a new job; it is his time to move into his father's role.
Along the way, both father and son must grapple with the emotions associated with growing older. Included in these emotions is one obvious feeling: loss. For the father, this loss evokes a sad response. He feels that he is losing the son he knows (the little boy) and being forced to accept the man his son is becoming. In a series of touching scenes, the father looks back fondly on the past, and in doing so is able to come to terms with the present. When he sees his son dancing with a young mountain woman, the father flashes back to the days when he himself was courting a mountain woman (now his wife). In another moment, the son offers to carry his injured father across a creek, and though the father's first response is "no one has ever carried me over before!" he soon finds himself being transported by his very able son. While on his son's back, the father daydreams about carrying his son as a young child. These are two of Huo Jianqi's blatant reminders that the son is moving into his father's role.
In the son's case, the feeling of loss that he experiences evokes happiness; he is no longer afraid of his father (he tells the viewer in the beginning that he was afraid of his ever-absent father when he was young). Although father and son experience different emotions, they both end up accepting their losses.
With the final scene, which shows the father watching his son leave, the film comes full circle and the life cycle nears completion. In another scene reminiscent of the one in which the father imparts knowledge to his son, the son gives his father advice about life in a community (a concept the father is unfamiliar with, since he has spent the majority of his life on the postal route). As the father finally watches the son depart for the post route alone for the first time, both the story and the music reach their climaxes. By leaving, the son proves that he is ready to step into his father's role, and by letting him go, the father steps into his next role��trusting his son, and recognizing that he is no longer a dependent little boy, but rather a capable man.
The film, although a captivating story, is not purely for entertainment; it also serves as a guide about growing old and moving gracefully into the new phases that come with different ages. The simple fact that the father and son are referred to as such, and do not have names unique to their characters, allows the viewer to place himself in the characters�� shoes. This is an important facet of the film, because its primary theme of growing older will someday affect everyone who ever views it.
Bonding in the Idealized Mountains
Postman in the Mountains is a very nostalgic story, which shows the value of simple rural life. The father son plot creates a very human story that most people can relate to. For this family they have an actual time when the father and son roles change. The point when a parent and child realize the child has grown up and the parent is gotten old is a very fundamental situation. This movie uses that human relationship to show an idealized view of the Chinese mountain culture. The culture is very innocent and isolated. The villages are very traditional and primitive although modernity seems to be creeping in. They use the dog's barking to inform the village that the postman has arrived. In one case the dog barking was a signal for a boy to throw down a rope so that they would climb up a steep hill because the road was washed out.
The hardships of the rural life is shown but also idealized. The village people all seem happy and friendly. The only one who is unwell is the very old lady whose grandson has left her for the big city never to return. The film favors the rural life. The scene in which they have to cross a river, instead of being a hardship becomes a bonding moment and a symbolic gesture where they acknowledge their role reversal. The job of the postman is romanticized as they walk through picturesque landscape, the people they come across all know him and treat him like family. There is no talk of money and the movie treats the job as a prominent position instead of the hard labor it really is.
Throughout the movie there is a sense of sadness as the father accepts that a huge part of his life is over. He also comes to terms with the fact that he will never make the trip again. There was also a feeling of sadness for the son as he realizes he will have to continue his father's job. The job that is full of hardships and is so physically draining it is causing his father to retire at the young age. The son seems to have no choice. He will become his father. He meets a girl he likes but says he will not marry a mountain girl because he knows he will have to be gone so much, just like his father and he does not want the girl to be unhappy like his mother. During the journey the two characters do form a bond, which they never had before because the father was always gone.
Film in general is a modern medium so it can be assumed that this movie was meant for an urban audience. At the time the movie was made many people were moving into cities from the rural areas. The sentimental quality of this movie would most likely speak to those people who left their villages behind. Young people would also relate to the distance between the father and son as far a traditional versus modern values. The father in "Postman in the Mountains" is traditional and highly values the culture of the mountain villages. He finds a lot of meaning in his work and loves what he means to the village people. He knows how hard a life he has lead always choosing not to give up his route for a desk job and yet once he could no longer carry on he only trusts his own son to continue after him. He turns the job over to his son, condemning his son to the same life he led for good and bad. The son starts the trip not appreciating the work but doing it simply to impress his father. The son prefers modern music, vehicles, and other aspects of a more modern lifestyle. The father does not trust modern things and tells the son not to hitch hike. Throughout the movie the son realizes how much his father means to the people he visits. The son also says he never knew how many hardships there were on his father's route. By the end he sees the value and importance of the route and accepts it as his fate.
Rural China for the Urban Audience
Director Huo Jianqi uses many mechanisms and images to create an idyllic, satisfying view of rural China. The early 1980's were a time of great urbanization in China. Huo Jianqi recognized a desire in urban dwellers to temporarily escape the busy modern city life. He created "Postmen in the Mountains" to serve this purpose, using an emotional story, a beautiful setting, and an unrealistic depiction, among other components, to instill a sense of peace and simplicity in the urban viewer.
In the film, a father and son are united as they earn each other's trust and respect. The father passes on his life's work as a postman to his son, and after years of being only superficially father and son, they finally achieve these actual roles in each other's lives. This touching story is key to Huo Jianqi's portrayal of an idyllic life. Both characters frequently display sensitive emotion in their facial expressions and movement. We can see the son's worry when he loses the father on the trail, and his relief when he finds his father again. When the son carries his dad across the stream, we see the father's tears and feel his emotion--a combination of pride and nostalgia. The father's flashbacks to his happy past bring the viewer a deeper sense of this nostalgia. These flashbacks all deal with family life--from his young son riding on his shoulders, to him meeting and courting his wife, to him returning from the postal route to greet his awaiting family--and place an emphasis and close family ties within rural China. Huo Jianqi uses family bonding to cause the viewer deep emotions that will tie them to the film.
Huo Jianqi's unrealistic portrayal of rural China is evidence that it was made for the urban audience. Life in the film is simplistic, static, and pure. There is never a complaint from any of the characters. Although the father suffers from severe leg pain due to his difficult job as a postman, he continues to work hard and refrains from being deterred by his injuries. Since he was nearly always away on his postal route, the postman rarely got to see his wife and son. The wife/mother was taken away from her dearly loved home in the mountains, and yet she also remains a positive and supportive character throughout the film. The son is forced into a life that seems to conflict with his youthful aspirations for a modern and different life. In another version of the story, the son may have felt unfortunate to be trapped working as a postman for the rest of his life (a job which, as the film points out, receives no promotional benefits--this serves to remind the viewer of the sincerity and loyalty of simple country folk). The route is difficult and does not change, and, like his father, he will spend very little time at home with his family. Despite these seemingly negative aspects, the son is very accommodating to the job and has no struggle accepting it as his new life.
Huo Jianqi clearly wished to play into the urban audience's idealistic view of an urban setting (fantasies of returning to a primitive past where life is simple). He adds beautiful mountainous scenery, an intelligent and loyal dog, and a great sense of harmony between the human community and nature throughout the film to please the urban audience and fulfill their desire to "vacation" in rural China through film.
Maturation in the Mountains
It is not an easy task to effectively portray the struggles of a father/son relationship. Every angle of this typical storyline has been covered in film. But somehow amongst the monotony of film, Huo Jianqi, director of Postman in the Mountain was able to find a new and intriguing way to portray this relationship. Not only was the story simplistic, this story also enabled Jianqi to delve into the characteristics of father and son. This is a good representation of the growth of two almost strangers.
There are no fantastic special effects or even any apparent special effects at all. Postman in the Mountain contains only the raw effect of a ghostly relationship. This simplicity is first seen when the father looks longingly towards his son after he embarks. No flashbacks, no impressive camera angles, only the empty stage the son has left. It is this emptiness that makes his father chase after him. In many major productions the emphasis on large special effects can be catastrophic. They can detract from the overall meaning of the story, and ruin an essentially good story line. Jianqi makes excellent use of a low budget film and utilizes his knowledge of what a father/son relationship should be.
While the movie has no epic emotional scene, there is a moment when the relationship between the father and son changes. There is no big fight, there is only the brief moment when the son carries his father across the river. Huo Jianqi makes this exchange so simplistic yet beneath the surface it is a profound moment in their relationship. It is just a few words that the son says that make the father see him as a man. He casts off his childish persona as he takes off his shoes and throws his father on his back. This scene makes the movie more relatable and easier to watch because it is plausible.
The final scene of the movie challenges the father's will and fatherly instinct. He wants to join up with his son and shield him from the challenges of his job, but he knows he cannot. Huo Jianqi shows through the empty screen, and his gaze towards his son that the movie is complete. Finally the father and son have reached a steady point in their relationship. This essentially dry plot turns into an interesting story by pure talent of Huo Jianqi. The climax of the movie is when he can let go.
Postman in the Mountain is compiled of simplistic camera shots, which give the movie a relatable feeling. Unlike most father/son complex movies, there are no catastrophic moments in their relationship, just the maturation as two strangers become familiar. Huo Jianqi makes sure to use their basic knowledge of one another so they can grow as father and son. He does not worry about spending millions of dollars on over-used scenarios. He sticks to a basic movie outline, but by doing so was able to explore a normal relationship. Postman in the Mountain, as a reflection of a father/son relationship, is unique and excellently done
Like Father Like Son
The passing down of hereditary traits is the way of the life cycle. This is how society carries on certain traditions, beliefs and attitudes. The passing on of genes and traits are not the only factors that are concerned in the word hereditary. In ancient time and even now, the passing on of land and wealth are just as important. The Chinese race hopes for a boy in childbirth because only the male figure represents the authoritative figure in the household. Only the male can inherit the house, the money and the rest of the estate. From generation to generation, passing down of values is crucial for preserving family values and legacy. In the movie, Postmen in the Mountains, the father's job of delivering mail is passed down to the son. Although the son does not particularly want the job, he is forced to accept it. We see the transition of the son becoming slowly interested in his father's life and finally accepting his fate. The cycle of father and son would be completed and the responsibilities as well as the values of the father would be passed down to the son.
Deep in the mountains, post offices did not exist and mails had to be carried by individuals walking from village to village. This is a long and tedious task. This type of responsibility is a heavy burden on anyone. In the mountainous regions of Hunan province this type of postal service existed. A single man delivered the mail to various mountain villages. The postal delivery would take weeks and it turned out to be very tiresome as well as long. Not seeing one's family for an extended amount of time was expected, thus the father and son relationship was weak. When it was time for the man to retire, the son was to take over for him. To show him "the ropes" the father went with the son on the first trip. As they went on their journey, the son slowly starts to realize his father's burden as well as responsibility. In the various villages, he sees the level of appreciation the people have for his father. They honor his father for his professionalism. In one particular village, as his father told people that he was retired and that his son would take his place and the villagers all came out to see him. This shows just how important the postman is to their village. The son was overtaken with surprise as well as contentment. In another village, the father reveals to the son that he has been writing false letters to an old woman waiting for her grandson to come back from the city. Even though the grandson never wrote anything, the father postman wrote letters to her as well as gave her money, pretending to be the grandson. As the father passes the blank letter to the son to read, the son looked bewildered and confused but when he finally started reading, he felt comfortable as well as in control. This represents the passing on of the duty from father to son. The son has taken over the father's job and is able to perform this responsibility with ease as well as passion. The son realizes the father's role in these villagers hearts and realizes how important his role is in this part of the world.
The cycle of father and son completed itself with the passing over of the job as well as the recognition of the human emotion. Through out the journey, the son, as well as the father, recognizes their own emotions towards one another. Due to the father's tedious job, there wasn't really that much father and son interaction in the course of their lives. Only when they are forced to take this trip together, they come to respect each other. As the son carried his father across the river, the father realizes how mature as well as responsible his son is. He's taken back to the past where he used to carry the son on his back. He is moved to tears when the role is reversed as the son carries the father on his back. The son is heartbroken to out find that the hardships that his father must endure to ensure vital communications between villages. He was pained to learn that the father had fallen off of a hill once on one of his many journeys. He now knows the pain and suffering his father has endured carrying these bags of mail up and down the mountains. On top of that, the father has a bad leg and still must repeat the trip. The son now has full understanding of his father's situation as well as his father's viewpoint on the importance of this job. The emotions of love and respect towards his father have come to the fore and he is now ready to walk in his father's footsteps.
As the son puts on the father's hat, his mailbag and takes the father's dog, the property of his father��the job of delivering mail��has been passed down to the son. The cycle has been completed and in a way and started all over again. The son would eventually have to pass down this duty to another, his son. Emotionally, the father and son understand each other, they respect each other, and they have a mutual understanding of how the future would be like. The saying, "Like father like son" is represented perfectly in this film.
A trip to the mountain, A trip to life
The Postman in the Mountain is a story about an estranged father and son who have barely known each other in the past, because the father used to be a postman who was always away form home when the son was young. However, the two generations later on come to show their love and respect for each other after a three-day trip of delivering mail in the mountain together. Although film critics argue that the rural area in China has lost its simplicity due to the effect of modernization during the early 1990s, I would still like to point out that this is a film that talks more about the deep love between the son and the father. Furthermore, in a way, the film presents the idea of "a life cycle," a very important moral value in the Chinese society.
The father and the son do not have names in the film because the director is trying to emphasize the cyclical relationship between the father and the son, rather than showing the two as unique individuals.
In the film, the father insists to have his son take over his job as a postman. He does not trust anybody but his own son. The father wants his son to be the successor of his career. This shows the very indirect love that the father has for his son. The love of the father in the film represents the love of a traditional Chinese father. In China, there is a proverb called "Zi Cheng Fu Ye,�� which means the son should continue the father��s career when the son grows up. This idea furthermore develops the traditional Chinese view of the circle of life as occupations are passed through generations.
The idea about the circle of life is also reflected in the scene where the son carries his old father across the river. At the same moment the son carries the father on his back, the father's memory flashes back to the old time, when he carried his little son on his shoulders. The son in the film shows his care and love for his father by carrying him across the river, because the father has leg problems. This scene reflects the circle of life clearly. In China, there is an agreed morality, which believes that it is the son's responsibility to take care of his parents when he grows up; because he used to be taken care of by his parents when he was young. Thus, the idea of repaying one's parents�� kindness is ritualized and institutionalized within the traditional family as it continues from generation to generation.
At the end of the film, the father goes out to see his son off to his job. The expression in the father's eyes tells the audience that the father is gratified that he has passed on his career, which means everything to him, to his son. The scene where the son gradually disappears in the fog while the father stands still shows the audience that the circle of life now ends at the father's side, and starts freshly on the son's side. This scene again reflects back the idea of circle of life.
The Postman in the Mountain is a great film that emphasizes the idea of the circle of life, a moral value still held within the Chinese society. The film makes me realize how the circular relationship between my parents and I could affect our relationships as we both grow up.