Chinese director Gan Bi’s dreamy debut Kaili Blues is a wonderous excursion throughout China, with both eyes cast back towards the past, even as we wrestle with elements of the present.
The protagonist of this particular tale is Chen Sheng (Chen Yongzhong). Although he’s now working as a physician working at a medical clinic, he doesn’t have a spotless history. He’s a former con, released from prison, trying to do make the most of his time now that he’s free.
This includes trying to keep an eye out for his young nephew Weiwei (Lou Feiyang) who is neglected by his father Crazy Face (Xie Lixun) and causes the brothers to feud over who should really be the one looking out for young Weiwei.
Chen soon finds out that the stubborn Crazy Face has already made his decision, sending him their hometown of Zhenyuan to be taken care of by another man, all without his brothers consent. The rest of the film focuses on Chen’s journey to get to Weiwei, and what a journey it is.
Gan Bi doesn’t spell things out clearly for us, only offering spurts of information across collections of scenes, forcing us to use that to complete the rest of the picture on our own. We are left to feed off of the visual journey, some of some incredible long takes (one of which lasts for nearly 40 minutes). His encounters and personal relationships are only part of the bigger picture, a spiritual journey of sorts that is cause for personal reflection for Chen.
For all the moments of beauty and some amazing cinematography, there’s some ambiguity to Bi’s message at play. It’s certainly not a film that casual audiences will flock to, but for those who find themselves in front of Kaili Blues, they’ll be taken on a dreamy solitary journey of introspection.