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Perceptions are personal. I couldn’t possibly know what you’d think Chinese drama Send Me to the Clouds would look like from reading a plot synopsis. What I do know, having seen the movie, is that it’s not going to be what you expect. Director Teng Congcong’s directorial debut is a gentle medley of two genres, with open thought and general wonderment embedded into its DNA.
Having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, thirty-something journalist Sheng Nan (the phenomenal Yao Chen) leaves her suffocating city surroundings behind for a location dotted with misty mountains. This is after taking up a ghost-writing job to pay for her upcoming medical bills.
An early visit to Nan’s hometown helps sketch out the character and why she treats people the way she does. Suffering from both unwelcome company and her health, she leaves for a mountainous hideout which winds up being the setting for some much-needed financial reward as well as soul discovery.
The drama is sprinkled with unexpected bursts of humour as our female protagonist, who was raised to be an overachieving man, struggles to come to terms with her current situation and tries to make the best of it. Light tingling sounds are employed to create an atmosphere that begs to be preserved.
Despite its dreamy setting though, Send Me to the Clouds remains starkly rooted in reality and is relentless like its lead character. The audience is not allowed to escape. When the laughter dies down, you will look at your feet and realise you’re in Nan’s shoes.
This film also utilises rapid cuts and strange eerie shots. Sometimes they feel unnecessary and can make the movie hard to follow. Send Me to the Clouds does not end with the clarity some might prefer with many things left open for interpretation. That being said, Congcong does a marvellous job making the remote locations feel all encompassing. Sweeping shots of high-rise city towers and green mountains make audiences feel powerful and constricted at the same time.
Excuse the flowery metaphor but Send Me to the Clouds evokes the scent of fresh soil brought out by the first rain after months of blistering heat. It switches up your mood in a way you didn’t know you needed. Soul-searching and existentialism have never looked so funny.