“Winter Vacation” describes the last days of the winter vacation of a group of teenagers in an unnamed Chinese town. As we are used to from adolescents, they have nothing to do all day. They just hang around in the street and argue with each other to keep the tension going. And of course they also grapple with the necessary existential questions. Should I find a wife and get married later? Should I commit to the communist party? Do I have to study hard to score well on the test?
In itself not surprising that as a teenager you are so confused. What makes “Winter Vacation” so special is that the youth’s quest is set against the backdrop of a desolate North China city. Rough, sleek stone buildings and no entertainment or street life whatsoever. Rooms without furnishing. And then also the dim light of the winter season. You wouldn’t want to be found dead in that city. By placing the aimless boredom of adolescents in such a depressing context, their existential questions have something sad about them.
Besides the environment, the elderly are also not exactly an inspiring example. They excel in resignation and grumpiness. For example, we witness old people getting divorced after years. An old grandfather who has worked hard all his life sits at home watching television dissatisfied and does nothing but nag his grandson. The market is normally a cozy place full of life, but not in this nameless Chinese city. The vendors sit at a long table and every stall is the same. Even negotiating is without pleasure.
The social commentary is quite thick in this film and it is therefore special that director Li Hongqi was allowed to make this film by the Chinese government. The film doesn’t really have a head and a tail, as a viewer you will have to make do with the images. They are very strong and the soundtrack is also fascinating. Difficult to explain what kind of music it is: a man and a woman mutter sounds accompanied by traditional Chinese musical instruments and guitar.
A movie about boredom always runs the risk of getting bored, but “Winter Vacation” has enough to keep you entertained. The fascinating images, the bizarre soundtrack and the at times funny street scenes of the young people make the film a special whole.