Film explores social issues in winter of discontent

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When director Liang Ming returned to his hometown city of Yichun in Heilongjiang province during the Spring Festival holiday in 2012, he didn't hang out with friends or join in family feasts as usual.

Instead, Liang chose to stay alone. Driven by a passion for writing, which Liang describes as his way of "talking to the world", he wrote the script for Wisdom Tooth.

Inspired by real stories he heard as a youngster, the film interweaves the tension between a pair of siblings, with a mysterious murder in a coastal city in Northeastern China, touching on various social issues in the process, including China's hukou (household registration) system and environmental issues.

Believing that it bears a similarity to South Korean director Lee Changdong's Burning and Chinese director Lou Ye's Spring Fever, the film has been praised by viewers and critics alike, receiving recognition from around 30 film festivals at home and abroad.

After scooping the best actor award at the Macao International Movie Festival and two more awards at the Pingyao International Film Festival, Wisdom Tooth opened across the country in thousands of member theaters of the China National Arthouse Film Alliance on Nov 27.

A graduate who majored in acting at Communication University of China, Liang started his career in the film and TV industry as an actor, but some stereotypical cameo roles and rigid performance requirements had dampened his enthusiasm in front of the camera.

"Many directors like to strictly 'control' their actors. I was once told how to walk and make gestures, and even told the degree of the angle I should raise my chin during a scene in which my character was required to look upward," recalls Liang, describing his early acting experiences as resembling that of a "puppet".

A turning point emerged in 2008, when he was cast alongside actor Huang Xuan to play a college student in director Lou Ye's indie film Spring Fever.

Despite the scenes featuring his and Huang's characters were cut from the final version, the film gave him a fresh perspective as the experience enabled him to completely immerse himself in the character's world.

"Lou gave the actors a lot of freedom. He helped me to establish a comfortable bond with the role, making me believe that I actually was the character while on set," says Liang.

More cooperation with Lou followed on Love and Bruises (2011) and Mystery (2012)-the latter of which saw Liang serve as the assistant director-during which his interest began to shift toward the director's chair.

Although the script of Wisdom Tooth was finished eight years ago, it took Liang six years to raise the budget before he could gather actresses Lyu Xingchen, Wang Jiajia and actor Wu Xiaoliang to shoot the movie in Yichun between October and December in 2018.

The methods of guiding actors that Liang learned from director Lou have worked for his maiden directorial outing. "When arriving on set, I just told the actors to act and speak in their own way. I wanted them to feel relaxed and comfortable, thus better placed to find the characters within themselves."

While lust and desire is often a subject broached by many art films, Wisdom Tooth touches upon a rarely featured topic-that of a young woman's clinging affection of her elder brother and the juvenile anguish caused by his new girlfriend.

For Liang, the film also marks his tribute to the comparatively simple and tranquil life before the unprecedented change brought about by the expansion of the internet.

Cassette tapes-once the prevailing format for youngsters to enjoy music-are featured as a symbolic element in the film.

When the female protagonist walks in on an intimate moment between her brother and his girlfriend, she flees from the situation in shock and, while running from the house, a cassette tape falls from her pocket only to be scratched and buried in thick snow. The scene symbolizes the end of her carefree youth.

It is the film's accurate depiction of adolescent women's pain that has found empathic favor among a female audience, exemplified by questions posed to the creators during film festivals and online.

The film, which touches on issues that many can in some way relate, offers a rare glimpse into the delicate and complex world of young women.

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