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Starring: Feng Zu, Keyu Guo, Xilun Sun, Muran Lin

Director(s): Lin Jianjie


After an incident at their private school, Wei, an only son from a middle-class family, and Shuo, a quiet, highly perceptive boy, find themselves connected through some mysterious energy that draws them intimately into each other’s lives. In his feature debut, writer and director Jianjie Lin elegantly unfurls a story where, just under the surface of family dinners, polite manners, and daily school and extracurricular activities, lie dark truths and hidden yearnings threatening to explode into sight. With an arresting, sharp style and a unique sensitivity to the socioeconomic status of its characters, Brief History of a Family is an exciting new expression of Chinese film on the world stage.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Brief History of a Family has an unsettling atmosphere to it that instantly gets under your skin, creating a tension filled thriller that is impeccably made while telling a familiar themed story in a setting you have never seen it told in before that makes for an unforgettable watch.

The creative decisions behind Brief History of a Family shows that the filmmaking team had an innate understanding of the unsettling story they wanted to tell in this psychological thriller. The film’s cinematography is striking but full of colourless images and darkness which helps to build the unsettling atmosphere as Shuo is introduced to Wei’s family and becomes intertwined with them. Toke Brorson Odin’s musical score is incredibly effective in helping to create a dark feeling to the film that plays on the audience’s uneasiness watching the film. All of this works to help create an insidious environment for writer director Jianjie Lin’s story to unravel in, which after the slower setup in the first act, allows the film to become an intense roller coaster to the film’s strong conclusion. The story itself deals with socioeconomic ideas and parents’ desires and ambitions for their children in a post one-policy child China, which creates some intriguing discussion within the film. While you have an idea where the film is heading, and you will be pretty correct in trusting that hunch, it’s such a unique setting for this type of story to unfold in that the experience to get to the film’s conclusion is shocking, enthralling and absolutely unsettling in the best way possible.

Though, it is the performances of Xilun Sun and Muran Lin as Shuo and Wei respectively that truly brings this story to life. Both of them are exceptional in the film’s lead roles, creating a unique friendship between the two boys that grows more and more unsettling as the story progresses. Especially Sun who is unnerving at times as Shuo, helping to drive the madness that begins to unravel in the film’s second and third acts. Feng Zu and Keyu Guo are both great as Shuo’s parents, with both of them helping to carry the themes that the film explores as these parents grapple with the presence of Shuo in their lives and the unspoken secrets and unmet expectations they have for their family come to light. It’s an excellent quartet of lead performances that carry the film from start to finish, ensuring that every startling and shocking moment of Jianjie Lin’s story lands to maximum effect.

It’s always exciting when filmmakers explore new territory in storytelling that mixes interesting social and political ideas with a traditional thriller, and that is exactly what Jianjie Lin has done with Brief History of a Family. Jianjie Lin’s entire directorial effort from the cinematography, pacing and musical score fit together like pieces of an elaborate puzzle to tell this startling story about two young boys and unspoken family expectations and secrets in present day China that is only elevated by an excellent cast to create a totally nerve wracking experience from start to finish.

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