Year:  2021

Director:  Ruoxin Yin

Rated:  M

Release:  April 22, 2021

Distributor: CMC Pictures

Running time: 127 minutes

Worth: $15.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Cast:
Zifeng Zhang, Darren Yowon Kim, Yang Xiao, Yuanyuan Zhu, Bowen Duan

Intro:
… the empathy in the writing and Zifeng’s captivating performance ring out in every single frame.

When we first meet the titular Sister (Zifeng Zhang), she has been dealt a tragic hand. After the death of her parents in a car crash, her remaining family insists that she be the new guardian of her child brother (Darren Yowon Kim), derailing her own plans to pursue work and study in Beijing. It’s a look at the clash between the dedication meant for one’s family and one’s self, heightened by the ethno-cultural context that surrounds it, and while it may succumb to the Party line regarding family by the end, that doesn’t make the journey any less heart-wrenching to witness.

The depiction of Sister’s family, and her strong-armed position within it, is shown as part of the fallout of the One Child Policy. Even though the story takes place well after it was abolished, its effects linger in how they impacted Sister’s own childhood, epitomised by the extent her parents went to so they could have Brother in the first place. Having to take care of a much younger sibling, who she barely knows and is essentially her parents’ attempt at a do-over child, the empathy in the writing and Zifeng’s captivating performance ring out in every single frame.

This is furthered by how well Darren does in the opposing central role, balancing out that especially childlike vocal register with genuine heart and more than a little cuteness. He’s like every endearing and nightmarish child in a single form. And in the midst of all the baggage Sister carries with her about her ambitions and the moral kidnapping that seemingly everyone in her life ends up enforcing, the larger examination of family ties and how ‘responsibility’ is defined in a culture where women are meant to be passive biological factories (a sentiment that isn’t exactly unique to China) creates a strong connection with them both, making the audience want to see them succeed.

Where that parameter of ‘success’ becomes surprisingly admirable is that, while the story is all about Sister’s struggle with her new responsibilities, the tone overall manages to avoid browbeating her character or the audience. It doesn’t simply suggest that Sister should just lie back and think of Yīng guó, as if the world’s aggressive behaviour is just something she or anyone should accept at face value. The direction and dialogue emphasise empathy towards Sister above all else, where the direction her life may or may not take is shown as something that should be defined by her, not by those who just want to shoulder off their own responsibilities onto her.

Sister may have a few sticking points when the entirety of its cultural context is taken into account, but the journey taken with Sister and her increasingly adorable Brother makes the two-hour ride one worth taking.

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