A box office smash in China this past summer, The Continent is a film that has clearly connected with young audiences. Considering that the film is the feature debut from Han Han – a blogger, novelist, and race car driver – it is easy to expect something as diverse and ambitious as the man himself. However, the most surprising aspect of the film is how conventional it actually is. For such a modern renaissance man, it is a bit peculiar that the fledging director chose to make a rather standard road trip film.
The Continent revolves around two small town friends, Haohan (Feng Shaofeng) and Jiang He (Bo-lin Chen), as they incur a series of mishaps while on a road trip of self-discovery. As is the case with most road movies, the pair meets a quirky cast of characters and even finds love along the way. Some of these individuals include Su Mi (Wang Luodan), a prostitute who captures Jiang He’s heart but has a secret of her own; Liu Yangyang (Yuan Quan), a longtime pen pal who changes Haohan’s entire outlook on his family; and Ah Lu (Wallace Chung), a free-spirit who is a little too keen on liberating the men of their property.
Outside of a great cameo by famed director Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin, Still Life), the most memorable thing about The Continent is Han Han’s strong visual eye. He provides a hushed beauty to the landscape and makes even the smallest moments radiate off the screen. One cannot help but wish that the story was as captivating as the images on display. Though a perfectly adequate film, there is very little that distinguishes The Continent from other films in the genre. Han Han raises some interesting social commentary throughout, however, it never goes as deep as one hopes. The added moments of humour are effective, but ultimately get lost in the overall predictable nature of the film.
Han Han is clearly a talented individual who shows much promise as a director. He gets a solid performances out if his cast, and shows a good grasp of pacing and tone. If only he had taken more risks, he might have had a truly great film on his hands. Hopefully his next film will be as daring and original as the man sitting behind the camera.