Intrepid seniors rebel against their nursing home in order to fulfill their dream of participating in a talent show in “Full Circle,” a heart-tugging comic drama from mainland helmer Zhang Yang (“Sun Flower,” “Getting Home.”) This festival crowdpleaser is a gentle, performance-driven ensembler that contrasts the values of the old and new Chinas and provides a paean to community and friendship. Although probably too slow and sentimental for arthouse play in the West, it could score ancillary action. Pic did modest theatrical business at home.
As presided over by a serious and responsible chief nurse (Yan Bingyan), the Guanshan Nursing Home in northern China is not a particularly bad place, but most of the inhabitants wax comically bitter about being there. After all, they hail from a traditional generation that respected the elderly and allowed them to live out their last days at home. They repeatedly voice their resentment of their busy, money-grubbing progeny for whom they sacrificed all their lives, but who rarely, if ever, come to visit.
Retired bus driver Old Zhou (respected Fourth Generation helmer Wu Tianming, providing the pic’s strongest performance) keeps up his spirits and those of the other nursing-home denizens by leading exercises and organizing a performance that he wants to take to the Super Skit competition in distant Tianjin. And when his disheartened former colleague, Old Ge (Xu Huanshan, dignified), turns up with nowhere else to go, Zhou’s energy and compassion give the newcomer the will to live on.
From here, scripters Yang, Huo Xin and Zhang Chong fill in issues relating to the two former bus drivers’ family lives, while following the skit rehearsals and the plot to sneak off to the competition. The other oldsters in the cast provide winning support, and the pic’s last third provides a colorful road trip in a (natch) rust-bucket bus through the unusual landscapes of Inner Mongolia as they approach their goal.
The action throughout alternates comic setpieces with heartwarming and tear-jerker moments. The sentimentality reaches its apotheosis during a scene in which Old Ge tells his long-estranged grandson the parable that illustrates the film’s title, a scene that will likely have audiences fumbling for tissues.
Handsome widescreen lensing contrasts the cramped spaces of the nursing home with the wide-open vistas viewed during the bus journey. Other tech credits are smoothly commercial.
End-credits footage of the older thesps, grinning at viewers one at a time as they are identified by name and age, provides a final treat. The Chinese title literally means “Transcend Old People’s Home.”