Review: Carry My Heart to the Yellow River

After Jing Yi’s (Box He) best friend is hospitalised and in a deteriorating condition, she decides to go ahead with the biking trip they’d planned together to China’s Yellow River, to send her pictures of all the places she wanted to visit. Directed by Alexis Van Hurkman, co-written with Kenjing Xiong, also starring: Linaixuan Wang, Meiqian Wang, Xiaobing Han, and Chit Cheng.

The film opens on a wonderful aerial shot and it’s a perfect foreshadowing of what’s to come because the whole 20-minutes is full of wonderful cinematography, if you weren’t aware of how beautiful the Chinese countryside is, you certainly will be after you watch this. It’s shot after shot of open plains and cultural landmarks, it’s a pleasure to watch and while it takes a large chunk of time compared with the little time used for the plot points of the story, it doesn’t take anything away, it only adds to the emotional experience that the characters are going through.

Having a best friend, confidante or the sibling you wish you’d had, at a formative age is something extremely precious, those memories will stick with you for the rest of your life and the journey Jing Yi takes, shows its importance. It takes a lot of generosity, kindness and caring to decide to do something so expansive to show someone how important they are to you and it’s something that the film gets across on screen very easily, it doesn’t require much dialogue, the situation becomes clear without it. It’s almost calming, despite it’s sad nature, to have the story reveal itself rather than being overtly pushed, it avoids any insincere or forced emotion, or any over the top dramatics, which is many points in its favour. It also has a very relaxed spiritualist edge to it, there’s a lot of religious imagery but it feels more like a universal experience than being tied down to any particular belief, the landscapes and magnificent scenery are more the religious experience than the monasteries.

The film simultaneously has kindness, a sense of hope and is heart-breaking, there’s a quality to it of embracing life and all that it has to offer, balanced with the fear and worry of unexpected turmoil. The more fretful side of the story, only gives the stunning visuals further depth, it doesn’t feel as though the story is being put to one side, it gives purposefulness to the vast array of landscapes and landmarks. Box He gives a performance that may not be perfect but captures the childlike optimism of ignoring death, of fighting against the desire to give up when things get difficult and turning to her parents for bolstering her determination.

Carry My Heart to the Yellow River is a beautifully shot, captivating and moving short film. The choices made by the filmmakers mean that following a young woman on her journey to support her terminally ill best-friend, isn’t just a dialogue heavy drama or a pool of tears, it’s calm and meaningful. Not to mention that in our current climate of quarantines and lockdowns, it’s an albeit sad yet relaxing escape to stunning, open lands and to take you, even momentarily, out of any feelings of being trapped or confined, allowing you to explore another side of the world, through Jing Yi’s eyes.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯