Now Reading
One Second Review

One Second Review

China, during the Cultural Revolution. An unnamed man (Zhang Liu) has escaped from a labour camp to hunt for a newsreel he’s heard features footage of the estranged daughter he hasn’t seen for years. Orphan Liu (Liu Haocun) wants the same newsreel, for her own reasons. Though the two tussle at first, the reel changing hands between them at regular intervals, they soon form an unusual, vital friendship.

Zhang Yimou is probably best known to UK audiences for his majestic martial arts epics like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, but he’s been making lower-key relationship dramas like One Second for far longer. Although his latest isn’t as visually stunning as Hero and its peers (what is?!), it still looks ravishing, with the dunes of the Dunhuang Desert photographed rapturously by Zhang’s regular DP, Zhao Xiaoding.

Zhang and Xiaoding do a stellar job with One Second’s centrepiece, a movie showing in a village square. Before we get to it, there’s been a predicament with the film reels that have left them tangled and dusty; the way Zhang shoots the residents lovingly restoring them is truly balletic. Then at the screening itself, the play of the shadows of the eager crowd on the improvised screen have their own special beauty. Several sequences are reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso in their love for the tangible experience of moviegoing, but the wider cultural context of the two films prevents too close a comparison.

And unlike the Italian classic, One Second manages to side-step schmaltziness in the relationship between its odd couple. Whilst it sometimes seems to be heading that way – with a man who desperately misses his daughter, and an orphaned girl who could really do with a parent – both performances are too vividly spiky, both characters in possession of too tragic a backstory, to fall into such sugary, cloying territory. As the two move from adversaries (they spend almost half the duration fighting over that film reel) to something like friends, Zhang Liu and Liu Haocun make a tremendously watchable duo, with the latter particularly impressing.

One Second was due to debut at the Berlin Film Festival in 2019, but was pulled at the last minute due to ‘technical difficulties’, and would actually end up premiering at the end of 2020 in Chinese cinemas. Considering the long history the Chinese Communist Party have of interfering with Zhang’s work, the consensus that the feature that eventually emerged had been hacked away at by the censors seems a fair one; there is something that feels a little disjointed about One Second, including an epilogue that just doesn’t seem to fit with what came before.

Still, for the most part, the movie that made it to audiences has plenty to recommend it, including – despite that censorship – an affecting critique of the strain the Cultural Revolution took on the general population. Led by two charismatic performances, full of beautiful images, and powered by a heartfelt love of cinema, One Second is another magnificent entry in Zhang Yimou’s remarkable filmography.


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.