Swirling melodrama from China in which two sets of star-crossed lovers play out their fateful trajectories far from home. In the framing story, a young woman flees to Prague after her fiance deserts her. She chooses Prague because that’s where her grandmother–who was an art student in Paris when the Japanese invaded China–ended up living in limbo immediately after World War Two.
It would be easy to laugh at all of this, but don’t. Much like the recent film But Always (which was tied to 9/11), there is something thrilling about watching young Chinese women discover themselves as heroines with romantic options. (JLH: 3.5/5)
Directed and co-written by Jinglei Xu who also stars as the grandmother “Lanxin” in the scenes set in the 1940s. Not yet seen by Rich.
Gorgeously photographed double melodrama is focused on two Chinese women who find themselves in Prague–far away from home, alone, and struggling to make sense of their lives.
In the contemporary story, “Jin Tian” (Likun Wang) has fled to Prague after a brutal break-up with her finance. She is determined to shake it off by doing all the wild things she would never consider at home (get a tatoo, have a one night stand, etc), but it’s really not her nature.
Instead she falls into a teasing love/hate relationship with a handsome cellist named “Zeyang” (Wu Yifan). Jin Tian thinks he is shallow, but repeated encounters begin to peak her interest. Eventually Zeyang brings her home to meet his family, and Jin Tian discovers that Zeyang has family burdens which will create a challenging set of complications for their budding romance.
All the while, Jin Tian is carrying a book of sketches her grandmother made in the 1940s. She knows her grandmother lived in Prague for awhile, but she doesn’t know the details of her story. The grandmother “Lanxin” is played by director Jinglei Xu (who also co-wrote the screenplay).
In the story within the story, we learn that Lanxin left China to study art in Paris, but World War II created an insuperable barrier, and she lost touch with her family during the Japanese invasion. Unable to return home, she had to flee from Paris, and eventually ended up in Prague.
Once the war finally ends, Lanxin begins working for “Josef Novak” (Gordon Alexander), a Czech doctor who has lost his entire family, and slowly, delicately, and tenderly, two damaged souls find comfort in one another until finally their two bodies begins to respond as well.
One could choose to be snarky about all of this, but the truth is that the parallel romances are told with such sincerity that they were genuinely moving. Romance is something most Westerners simply take for granted, but for the young Chinese women on screen, all of this feels new and exciting. There is something thrilling about watching them discover themselves as heroines .
Bottom Photo: Likun Wang (left) and Yifan Wu (right) play the lovers in the contemporary scenes.
Photo Credits: China Lion Distribution
NOTE: All names in this review are provided exactly as they appear on Somewhere Only We Know’s IMDb page.
Q: Does Somewhere Only We Know pass the Bechdel Test?
Only kinda sorta…
Jin Tian pals around with her friend “Shanshan” (Re Yizha) when she first arrives in Prague, but then she drops out of the picture once she begins spending most of her time with Zeyang… So it’s a stretch…