SPECIAL JURY PRIZE “SILVER GEORGE”

HǍIYÁNG DÒNGWÙ
IN SEARCH OF ECHO
director Zhang Chi
China
2019
112’
 
Mr. Zhu has reached a point in his career where he is left with only a few acting offers on the table, so he hops on a ferry in search of his wife, on the island where they first met. It is low season on the island, with few visitors in plain sight. Yet Zhu continues to actively photograph everything on the island. He encounters various islanders, gets familiar with a hotel owner, becomes attracted to a primary school teacher, and engages in romance with the manager of a local dance club. While he begins a fascinating journey, his wife is still nowhere to be found…
 
Zhang Chi
He has directed several short films. Zhang Chi also worked as production designer and editor for films and designed for theatre production. In Search of Echo is his first feature.
 
Breakwaters are reinforced with concrete blocks of four traditional shapes: a tetrapod, which consists of four conic bars, a dipod, which consists of two trapezoidal cross-sectioned surfaces, and so on. A diligent viewer can find this information on Google would they be overcome with the desire to make sure that blocks piled around the island in the film “In Search of Echo” can indeed have such intricate shapes and are not a figment of the director’s and designer’s imagination. Weird words for shapes and mind-blowing descriptions are what best renders the atmosphere in Zhang Chi’s movie
 
This is a peculiar movie, not even in terms of plot (which gradually reveals two parallel universes of Zhu the maniac and Zhu the actor who discusses the role of a maniac), but mostly in terms of visuals. Its novelty in optics can be called the movie’s most important discovery. This doesn’t mean that Zhang Chi and his crew suggest any unexpected decisions, rather that the film is strewn with the delight of a man (or even a child) who has for the first time discovered optic effects, albeit of the simplest kind. The boy who lives on the island looks at the world through a bottle half-filled with water. Zhu, who comes to the island in search of his missing wife, films everything, including himself, with an old-school camera. Left on the table, the vintage device rattles quietly. At times a pool of blood slowly and languidly approaches it, but usually Zhu carefully and even squeamishly cleans it with wet wipes. Distorted images are created by multiple glasses, mirrors, glass doors, aquariums, and neon lights.
 
Omnipresent water at some point becomes more important than confessions of women Zhu meets on the desolate island. Weaving together, their words create the notion that there’s someone missing in everyone’s life. This becomes a metaphor of life as constant longing and waiting for a ship coming out of mist or a person coming out of rain. Indeed, it rains, windows break open, salty splashes cover everyone, water patters on the bowls as the roofs are full of holes and leak. Two elements penetrate each other to the extent that it seems a fish will soon swim across the room. It does not, but people do use fish as weapons – and share a cigarette with a crab. Two other elements – real world and illusions of film – also intertwine and mix, as Zhu introduces himself to the islanders as an actor, and before dealing with a comic inn owner, pesters her with questions which of the four murders he committed in a (fictional) TV show she likes best.
 
Before directing a movie, Zhang Chi worked in cinema as a set designer and editor, so it comes as no surprise that visual diversity of cinema becomes a cult for him. What does come as a surprise is that verbal component of the movie is equally diverse: we see quotes from Tennessee Williams, allusions to Mao Zedung’s Red Guards in “guards” walking along the shore, the topic of Buddha’s head and postmodernist collision of realities. But the director isn’t afraid of complicating things, with a true jeweler’s certainty believing that the more edges a crystal has, the brighter will be the sun beam as it goes through.
 
Igor Savelev