A promising start later grinds to an almost complete halt as “Distance” doesn’t go the distance. HD-shot item, about a young yokel who stays with his cousin in a big city in order to find work, shows a good eye for composition but has little idea how to develop the characters and material in a dramatic way. This is pure fest fodder that will appeal to auds who groove on downbeat indie fare from China.
Set in the current location du jour, the Yangtze River, and dealing with the familiar subject of migrant Chinese looking for work in the New Economy, pic centers on Zhu Ming (Hu Yuan), who has such a thick local accent that his cousin, Zhu Kun (Li Jian), tells him he’ll have to speak proper Mandarin if he hopes to find employment. Ming bunks down with Kun and Kun’s live-in g.f., Jingjing (Huang Jingjing), but seems clueless about how to get a job.
Kun tries to help, but ends up paying non-refundable “finder’s fees” to shady middlemen on Ming’s behalf. Jingjing, who’s a college student and looking for work herself, gets increasingly irritated by Ming’s presence in the apartment, and even Kun, who has a job at a newspaper, eventually tires of all the effort involved. Meanwhile, Ming has met a fellow job migrant, Xiao Wen (Tan Wenying), who’s cute but unreliable.
Initial scenes move along nicely, with a range of potentially interesting characters, but as the tone grows more melancholy and the pacing becomes more sluggish, film-school aesthetics come to the fore. Final half-hour, including a long wrap-up, is a real grind.
HD lensing of the Yangtze locations (pic is set and shot in Huangshi, near Wuhan, central China) is good, with only some interior over-reddish hues spoiling the look. Best of the thesps is Li, as the elder cousin who tries his best but has standards he won’t compromise.