An offbeat coming-of-ager set among one of China’s biggest minorities, the Miao, “Lala’s Gun” makes up in verismo detail what it lacks in narrative drama. Shot entirely in the Hmong language, pic doesn’t romanticize its non-Han cast, making this of interest to specialist webs and ethnographic auds. Careful packaging, plus a 10-to-15-minute trim, could bounce this onto the fest circuit.
A labor of love by Chinese writer-director Ning Jingwu (“The Birthday”), the film centers on the Miao of Guizhou province in southern China, where custom dictates a boy will receive a gun from his father on his 15th birthday. Problem is, Gun Lala (newcomer Wang Jishuai, likable), who lives with his grandma (87-year-old Shi Mingma), has never seen his father. Armed with the knowledge that dad is a crack hunter and has a dragon-claw birthmark on his back, Lala sets off to find him. Boy’s odyssey is a fascinating if leisurely one; a subplot involving a friend (Gun Dangyuan) who leaves for Guangzhou “to see the world” provides some perspective on Lala’s local journey. Ning’s straightforward helming is enhanced by natural lensing of Guizhou’s mountainous southeast around Basha.