Mountains May Depart


“The film is at its best when depicting the sheer estrangement between generations within the modern Chinese family.”

Title: Mountains May Depart (2015)
Director: Zhangke Jia 👨🏻🇨🇳
Writer: Zhangke Jia 👨🏻🇨🇳

Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸

Technical: 3/5

Mountains May Depart is your classic indie, foreign film—strong on substance, but kind of boring. Don’t get me wrong; Zhangke Jia is a renowned Chinese filmmaker who focuses on the fascinating tensions between old and new China. His complex narrative voice is imperative in a country where government-funded blockbusters threaten to reduce millennia of Chinese history into a glossy, patriotic folktale.

The film is at its best when depicting the sheer estrangement between generations within the modern Chinese family, when children are unable to converse with their own parents due to language barriers erected in the name of what society deems as “success.” The ability to communicate with one’s own family is a luxury not everyone gets to have, and Jia does the international community a service by highlighting this alienation that so many experience around the world.

At the end of the day, however, this film is a bit self-indulgent with its weaker third act as it overreaches, taking on more themes than it can reasonably explore. The disparity between its Rotten Tomatoes scores feels accurate to this film: critics gave its crucial storytelling a strong 89%, while audience members were less enthused by its slow pacing at 70%.

Gender: 3.5/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NO

Small cast, so there isn’t a ton of female representation. One point removed for not passing the Bechdel Test: only one conversation is had between two women, and it concerns the health of a mutual, male acquaintance. Overall, though, all characters of both genders are nuanced, complicated, and truthful, with roughly equal screen time—hence, the decent rating.

Race: 5/5

Mediaversity is written from an American point of view and to that respect, it will always be refreshing for us to watch a cast of primarily non-white characters. So this gets a 5/5 for not only showcasing a Chinese point of view, but also exploring various iterations of what that means.

For example, we hear a range of dialects as characters hail from Shanxi, Hong Kong, or elsewhere in China. We also see various migrant stories; one woman was born in Hong Kong, raised in Toronto, and then moved to Australia. Another man was born in Shanxi, lived in Hong Kong, and then raised his son in Australia. These are exactly the types of realistic, non-binary stories that Mediaversity wants to see more of in mainstream media.

Mediaversity Grade: B- 3.83/5

A welcome contrast to the action blockbusters China has been backing in recent years, Mountains May Depart shares a moving story about the tensions between generations of Chinese individuals told through pensive, minimalistic storytelling. While the film errs on the slow side, it showcases complexity, realism, and diverse viewpoints: all things Mediaversity stands for.

Grade: BLiGreat for: Race