Endless Way Review
In 2001, a small remote village in the Wolong mountains of West Hunan, China, is supplied with running water for the first time. The journey to this achievement has been long and arduous, coming with such a significant human cost for many of the villagers that its value must be called into question. The traditional method of bringing water to the village was not an easy one, the limestone character of the mountains not holding the rain water, meaning that the villagers had to made frequent journeys to a well in a deep cave or along perilous narrow paths down the mountain, transporting the heavy loads of water back up the steep mountainsides in large containers carried on their backs. It’s a tough occupation, but Ah-Ming (Chen Chuang) sees it as his duty, supporting his blind mother (Liao Guanzhen) who is a weaver.
It’s out of the same sense of duty that Ah-Ming also agrees to an arranged marriage with a girl from a neighbouring village, and is consequently unable to marry the girl he actually loves, Ah-Shui (Xia Lu). Since Ah-Ming’s father died on account of a previous attempt to create an aqueduct organised by Lao Tian, the head of the village and Ah-Shui’s father, it has in any case placed an insurmountable barrier between the two families. In the event however, both women leave Ah-Ming – his wife unable to become accustomed to the hardships of life in the village wife and then Ah-Shui, looking for work in the town. Two years later however, Ah-Shui comes back with Sister Long (Pu Chaoying) and a group of geologists who believe they can overcome the long-standing difficulties of working in the region and redirect a supply of water into the village, but again there is a high price to pay.
Essentially then the story of Endless Way (Gui qu lai) is a simple one, showing how people live in remote regions of China, the hardships they have to endure, their sense of tradition and the conflicts that arise between their duty towards their family and their village and their deeper personal needs. The film however is not filmed in any way that makes its point immediately clear, but rather appears to be unnecessarily convoluted. There’s a repetition of imagery – the old woman weaving in a darkened room, children running through the streets of the almost medieval stone village, sunlight streaming across the glistening stones, water carriers descending and ascending the paths to the village and the stone steps to the cave, landscapes of mist covered mountains, a water basket falling down the mountain. These images are repeated and intercut in different time periods, the lighting and association with specific locations certainly giving the film character and a sense of timelessness, but there is little beyond the surface imagery and it feels like the film is spinning a very thin idea out excessively.
The same can be said for the framework device of the mystery narrator, kept hidden and filmed from behind as a passenger in a car travelling back in the present day to the village she hasn’t seen in a number of years. This adds an issue of intrigue which is quite effective up until the moment that she is revealed, at which point it’s not at all clear why it’s been kept a mystery all this time. The use of a narrator however, along with the fragmentation and repetition of images does give the film a personal and sometimes poetic touch, accounting for the romanticism of the story and the fates of the villagers who are part of it, but it may not be enough to convince the viewer that the slight story merits such consideration.
Endless Way is released in the UK by Escapi. The film is presented on a single-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
The failings of the transfer are immediately apparent, the widescreen 1.85:1 image being non-anamorphic and clearly taken from a high-contrast theatrical print. Within those limitations however, the presentation isn’t all that bad. The strong contrast certainly makes the film look very dark, but the colours are rich and well-saturated, particularly the vivid reds, and the image itself is clear, sharp and detailed. There is some minor artefacting and mild shimmer visible, along with some combing, but there are very few marks on the print itself other than a few white dustspots and a couple of reel-change marks. It’s certainly not an ideal transfer, but the film is not unwatchable by any means.
The audio track, Dolby Digital 2.0 with only a few wider ambient noises occasionally to give any indication that it is in stereo, is little more than adequate. It’s generally clear on sound effects and on San Bao’s lovely plaintive score and even dialogue is mostly clear with only a very low level of underlying analogue hiss. The narrator’s voice however shows up the limitations of the track, being rather dull and echoing.
The DVD comes with optional English, Swedish and Dutch subtitles. The English subtitles are in a white font and are strong, clear, well-sized and well-positioned. There are only two or three minor grammatical or spelling errors – the majority of the translation seems to adequately cover the film’s intent.
The only extra features on the DVD are trailers for two other Escapi Chinese cinema titles, Life Show and Postmen in the Mountains.
Endless Way is a modest little film, managing to tell a story of conflict between love and duty and between progress versus tradition in the context of the lives of ordinary people living in remote regions of China, and avoiding the minimalist/miserabilist trend of Jia Zhang-ke or Diao Yinan, but it consequently never seems to have the weight or relevance of those directors’ works. There’s a sense that the film is striving to achieve something more through the fragmented structure, the repetition of images and the poetic reminiscence of the narrator, but it really just feels like it’s overcomplicating a rather simple, straightforward and not particularly interesting story.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:31:42