Written and directed by Zhanfei Song, shortly after The Third Solar Term of the Chinese Calendar (the Awakening of Insects), Qizhe returns home to spend his spring break with his mother. After meeting a man who he originally met online, he begins to lose control of his double life – one which is living true to himself, and the other, which is pretending to be the perfect son. Starring: Fengyi Xing, Zhu Zhu, Le Duo and Renzhuo Bai.
Zhanfei Song kicks things off with a bold opening, jumping into Qizhe’s (Fengyi Xing) virtual sex life with a honesty and grit, then quickly switching to a sharp and earnest aesthetic. It’s an effective choice, that immediately sums up Qizhe’s world, on the one hand exploring his sexuality and on the other, keeping it under wraps as the dutiful son. On both fronts he feels fairly naïve and fresh, he’s going down the classic path of figuring himself out and how that fits into his life as a whole. It’s full of familiar coming of age and queer themes but still feels original. Part of its charm is that it creates characters who you can quickly connect with, even in this short time frame, they feel well rounded with individual personalities. It deals with the story in a way that a lot of things come across clearly with a need to be said, or to be direct.
A skill which is in part due to the film’s use of quiet, it creates a contemplative atmosphere, implying everything unsaid in the silence. It has a relatable awkwardness and builds a tension which is obvious but at the same time never becomes unsubtle. It has a very strong visual quality, there’s a fantastic colour and intensity to it. The direction takes that further with a graceful and elegant feel, well-framed shots and a superb use of space. All its elements added together build a powerful impression, driving home the emotions of its story. Including Qizhe’s pet Mantis was a perfect touch, it not only makes him feel individual but fits perfectly with the tone and aesthetic of the visual.
The emotions at work are undoubtedly helped by the terrific performances from its cast. Fengyi Xing portrays a familiar yet new character in Qizhe, he has all the typical anxieties and curiosities of youth, as well as a shy charm. Zhu Zhu as his mother again hits the usual tones of the single-parent relationship but as the story develops, creates an interesting arc and emotional journey. Le Duo on the other hand presents a loud, confident and self-assured character, pushing Qizhe out of his shell and guiding him into a life where he doesn’t have to hide.
The Third Solar Term takes a story of burgeoning sexuality and brings a fresh, sharp feel. It says plenty without needing to say much at all and uses that quiet to its full advantage. Especially when paired with its fantastically crisp cinematography, and Song’s graceful direction. There’s a superb cast at work bringing strong personalities and emotions to the table, for a charming, meaningful and relatable story.