For his first film, director Han Jie has drawn inspiration from his own childhood memories. He always looked up to the big boys who dared to do everything he dared not: get into mischief, get drunk and hit on girls. Han Jie also drew the background against which this story takes place from his own youth: the almost anarchic conditions at school, partly due to the desolate circumstances in the Chinese mining regions. Mining companies are popping up like mushrooms, but they disappear just as quickly, sometimes literally because they collapse because safety regulations are completely ignored.
In those circumstances, as a young student, you must meet the requirements for the “survival of the fittest” early on. In any case, Xiping, Liuliu and Erbao seem to have no problem with that. They are at the top of the “food chain” and if this threatens to be affected, they take the necessary measures. Likewise when Liuliu, a rather fat boy, is robbed of his truck and beaten up by a gang of boys led by one Xiaosi. After taking courage, the three comrades go in search of Xiaosi to get revenge. The fact that Xiaosi is eventually taken to grave in the school building is typical of the anarchist conditions that are also visible in Chinese society.
Once sober, the three boys realize that they have to (temporarily) leave, and they go to the city. During the journey, however, their friendship is put to the test, and the three of them are ultimately left alone and penniless.
This makes ‘Walking on the Wild Side’ a pessimistic film, but above all a film that holds up a mirror to Chinese society. The consequences of the economic changes are not only positive: harsh and dangerous conditions in the mines and great poverty for families have their negative consequences for social relations: at school, in the family and in friendships and love. These things are shown in an unvarnished way in “Walking on the Wild Side”.
The fact that the film was made with a limited budget does not in general detract from that. On the contrary: the grayness of the region and the existence there is precisely captured by it. Walking on the Wild Side is an authentic movie.
One big downside is that the role of Liuliu is played by two actors. In some scenes, the fat boy is suddenly skinny and can only be recognized by the same leather jacket. The sometimes mediocre acting also makes it clear that the film has been made slightly amateurish. The role of Xiping, nevertheless the main role, is portrayed excellently.
It is surprising that “Walking on the Wild Side” won one of the Tiger Awards at the 2006 Rotterdam Film Festival. Above all, it seems to be a (justified) reward for the daring and personal way in which director and screenwriter Han Jie has exposed sensitive aspects of Chinese society.