Seventeen years

I saw a China film called Seventeen Years last night. The story was how Tao Lan, a woman of 32 or 33 jailed since 16 because of a rush of blood assault on her stepsister which turned out fatal, returned to her mother and stepfather's lodge for a new year vacation from the prison. The story ended with the father of the dead forgiving this repentant, who is set for release a year later. The whole affair sounds a routine domestic moral melodrama, but some twists and turns in the film did deliver some bitter delightful food for thought. Those details work - or should I say act - like Doestoyevsky’s account of hysteria. On the first look they seem out of place, not in harmony with the course of interaction of normal persons; but they never fail to reveal, may be by only a glint, some naked realities about human mind. I dare not say that they are the realistic account of life, but they make a study of humanity which is so meticulous that put things under microscopic or a more powerful xyz-scope; looking at the molecular structure of the object under observation. Though a picture of a sea of H2O molecule will not represent the way we know about water normally, it is only because of the analysis of chemists and physicists at the molecular levels which reveals and explains many properties of water, the transparent flowing cool liquid we know of. In the same way, the film last night provide lots of scenes which prompted me to ask 'why? How come?' Some were answered by 'yes, that is what it should be' after some consideration - for example, Tao Lan had been assertive and impetuous when she was 16 but shy and feeble on the day of going home and even failed to cross a road or get on a bus - while some others still defy explanation. At the end of the day, the film didn’t get me into the shoes of the characters, but it lifted me from the ground I was standing, into the air, and directed my eyes and mind to try to feel what could happen to a family which had gone through 17 years of silence haunted by a ghost which nobody invited and nobody dared to exorcise. The mother had been deeply attached to Tao Lan and 17 years ago she had had many bitter rows with her husband because of the blood tie. But why did she ignore the prison’s notification of her daughter’s home-visit and had never informed the prison of her change of address after moving for a couple of years? Why did Tao Lan and her mother failed to kiss or smile to each other when Tao Lan came to the door? Finally, the two most striking puzzles lingering in my mind till now are: Why did Tao Lan lie about what happened 17 years ago - by admitting she had stolen the five dollar note which was in fact stolen by her stepsister - when she begged her stepfather’s pardon? And why the two old and lonely persons have not forgiven Tao Lan for the 17 years until the night Tao Lan was ushered by the prison official into their house of mourning? Will I do the same if I were them? The more I think of it the more I am convinced I would have behaved like them, and the less I can explain in words in logic how it would come about. Seventeen years is too long a spell for back-tracking whats, hows, whys and why-nots. Speechless. Let go. When you know it you would not do it, and vice versa.

Sam Mok