Yang Huilong’s feature debut Today and Tomorrow, which took him 10 years to accomplish, casts us into a realistically depicted world of urban lost souls called the “ant tribe” (highly educated but jobless young people) as they attempt to make a life for themselves under difficult conditions.
Jie (Wang Taodie) and Ranran (Shu Yao) move into a small room, the first time they have had their own privacy. One immediate advantage is they now have the freedom to express their love physically, which plays on the mind of their friend and close neighbour (perhaps too close) Wang Xu (Tang Kaikin), who occupies the room next door.
Despite this minor change in fortune, they must still endure the grim reality of their daily lives. Ranran, a graduate fashion student, is forced to tolerate the advances of the tailor she is apprentice to. Jie, meanwhile, struggles to motivate himself to do anything at all and Wang’s dreams of making advances in an insurance company are dashed when he refuses to go along with their crooked practices.
And so they continue, surviving day by day, with hopes and dreams somewhere in the distance, as so many of us do. Huilong carries us through the relentless ordinariness of it all with careful, sometimes beautiful and inspired, camerawork focusing on consistent (if a bit wooden) performances. Once in a while, it’s broken with a drunken outburst to relieve the monotony. We’ve all been there, right?
This frustration leads Jie to extreme measures, as he and Wang set out to sell Ranran’s work to established Beijing fashion houses, lugging a mannequin dressed in one of her designs around the city. This leads to an encounter with an unfortunately stereo-typed, overly camp gay designer. And this is what lets the film down, for the most part – the film’s realism is undermined, as Huilong too often falls back on cliché.
Probably aided by the cast and crew living on set during the making of the film and the fact Huilong once belonged to the “ant tribe” himself, a sturdy realistic fibre does hold the piece together until the end, despite the obvious dialogue. But when Huilong decides to use the camera to tell the story, the film really threatens to transcend its modest narrative.
Today and Tomorrow isn’t currently available to watch in the UK.