Short Film Review: Before Christmas


Synopsis:

A lower class Chinese family moves to a big city for a living. The father and his son Xiao Lee, an 18 year-old teenager who dreams of becoming a singer, begin working hard labor in a Christmas decoration factory. Reluctant to face reality, Xiao Lee decides to make a change to pursue his dream. Tragedy is in store for this young man and his poor family as they become victims of Chinese society.

Review: 

Let’s have three exhibits first up.

A) “Nothing could ever stand,

     Between you and the free land.”

This is a line from a song that our protagonist, Xiao Lee (Deyang Hou), keeps listening to through his music player. The line keeps recurring throughout the film’s 15-minute duration.

B) The opening shot of the film shows a family of three, Xiao Lee and his parents, standing by the roadside. They have recently come to the city from their hometown in search of work. The wall behind them has graffiti which says, “China Dream, My Dream.”

C) A banner in the factory where Lee and his father (Xianyuan Zhu) work has the message, “No food, no sleep, everything for money.” 

“No food, no sleep, everything for money.”

It struck me as a funny, and tragic, way of motivating the employees. Then again, when one sees that they are identified during their working hours by their numbers, not names, one does see that their dehumanization is complete.

The opening shot, as mentioned above, also has skyscrapers in the background. The director wastes no time in making clear the distinction between the haves and the have-nots. Mind you, the story is set and shot in China, and the film shows how the free market model, the lifeblood of the modern world economy, has created a vicious circle of poverty which crushes dreams even before they can germinate properly. It can also be seen as showing how people migrate from rural areas to the cities in search of better opportunities, all the while nursing their dreams. Of course, how it all ends crushes one or the other viewpoints.

Xiao Lee goes with his father to the factory to get some work. He probably isn’t even adult yet. His father tells the factory owner that he “just turned 18 last month.” Hidden in his statement is the desperation to make ends meet. Long hours in the factory making Santa caps for export is what they have to do. Yet, the irony of the situation is that poor Xiao doesn’t even know what Christmas is. All he wants is to follow his dream, which is far from the tangles of yarns and fabrics.

Pipe dreams.

So while the pipe-smoking, time-worn father has accepted a life of high toil and no reward for himself, the son isn’t ready to accept defeat just yet. Call it the optimism of youth or its naïveté. The fact is, the romanticism of following your dream, free will, is a huge part of literature. But determinism is a force to contend with too, especially when you don’t have the financial means to pursue your passion. I’d read an article only a few hours earlier on a guy who heads the largest cryptocurrency exchange in India. And while I commend his belief in bitcoins and his own ability, I couldn’t help being struck by the fact that but for his father’s empire to fall back on, he wouldn’t have reached where he is. Juxtapose that with this film. Xiao Lee and his family live in a small house that is barely functional, yet one that is ubiquitous in the industrial districts of cities and towns across the world, especially the global south. This is a film about such people, about how the festival of Christmas, which ostensibly ought to be about joy and bounty,  isn’t always so. Especially when a man has lesser value than Santa caps.

Of the three main actors, the work of Zhu (the father) is the best. Hou is good, but feels shy at times to breathe life into his character. The mother (Jianchun Hao) is your typical loving and caring homemaker. 

The camera keeps the red Santa caps in almost every frame in the factory. They are the white (or red, in this case) elephants in the room. The story, which is based on Chen Ronghui’s China Christmas photography, offers a critique of the modern economic system without devolving into melodrama. It is taut and efficient. Writer, director and co-editor He Chuyao deserves praise for her work.

Genre:
Short Film, Drama, Contemporary

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Trailer:

Here’s the IMDb link for the film:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5144006/
I’d love to hear your views on the film and this review in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.

5 Comments

  1. ‘Before Christmas’ seems to be a thought provoking film, sparring with reality and the dreams gone awry.

    I really liked the way you presented the vignettes at the beginning of the review, that helped me sense the mood of the film.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a touching and evocative short film and your excellent review paints a very poignant picture, especially the part where the father has given up on dreams while the son hasn’t yet because he’s still green. I’d love to watch this film. Could you share the link with me? Thanks 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it was indeed a poignant experience for me.
      Thanks for the appreciation of the review.
      BTW, for some reason, I didn’t receive notifications from WP on your likes and comments. Just saw them.
      As for the film’s link, sorry about that. 😞

      Liked by 1 person

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