NYAFF 2019: THE CROSSING is a Sublime Dramatic Thriller

The New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 28th to July 14th, 2019. For more information, click here.

The Crossing (Guo Chun Tian), which recently screened at the New York Asian Film Fest, is the first film directed by and co-written by mainland Chinese filmmaker Bai Xue. Being from the mainland herself rather than Hong Kong gives her a much more authentic voice when it comes to tackling a subject that would have simply been used as exploitation fodder in lesser hands. Instead we get a rather nuanced character drama about a young girl who loses and then discovers herself in the gray market world of iPhone smuggling.

Taking place in 2013/2014, the hook here is the iPhone still has a very US-centric release date. Where now the iPhone has a much more global friendly rollout, it used to be that all available product was shipped directly to the US, where it would debut first, and then would slowly roll out in other countries. Given Hong Kong’s love of luxury items, those looking to get the new iPhone day and date with the US launch would be willing to pay double the cost for the device, creating a thriving grey market. This technological aspect is layered with a socio-political one, as the young girl in question was born in Hong Kong, where she travels to school daily, but lives in Shenzhen or mainland China, home of Foxconn factories.

This introduces an odd duality to our 16 year old protagonist Liu Zipei or Peipei (Huang Yao), since mainland China is almost considered a third world country when comparing it to Hong Kong. Hong Kong not only its own currency, but its own language, and when I was in China in the early 2000s this was even more apparent as the city’s stunning glass and steel metropolis was contrasted by the impoverished factory-laden landscapes of mainland China. Its Peipei’s existence in both of these worlds that makes her decision to smuggle iPhones to get money for her and her best friend Jo’s (Ka-Man Tong) trip to Japan completely a no brainer.

The quiet, unassuming girl, always clad in her schoolgirl uniform, makes a perfect mule and is recruited by Jo’s boyfriend Hoa, quickly becoming a favorite of the ring’s matriarch, Sister Hua (Elena Kong). It’s how this affects her relationship with her best friend’s boyfriend, and how director Bai Xue handles that, which makes this film really shine, as the unlikely pair finds a connection in their hope to make a better life for themselves through smuggling. To be honest, I never thought taping iPhones to another human being’s body could be so erotic until this film. When Peipei is approached from going from iPhones to guns, her life collapses in on itself as her best friend finds out her best friend and her boyfriend have unknowingly become an item.

The Crossing is a stunning debut that tackles a subject with an almost effortless grace and familiarity. This is also thanks to lead Huang Yao, who does a very complex and nuanced take filled with innocence as she falls into this world. Of all films to begin the fest with, The Crossing was a strong start and one that will have me following the career of Bai Xue going forward. It’s a film that, thanks to its protagonist, doesn’t get lost in the sociopolitical-ness of its subject matter, but it’s still there nonetheless for those that peer just below the surface of this great drama.

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