Lynn is in school but notably disinterested. Her boyfriend pays for her to learn English, but she’s content to bow out. She attends social gatherings but stalks on the sidelines until ultimately deciding to jump ship. We don’t know much about her because she often refuses to do anything but sit, stare, scroll, and murmur. But as Lynn is confronted with the uncertainty of the future, she fronts the decision of an abortion to her boyfriend while moving forward with her pregnancy and the options of what to do with her child once it’s born. This pregnancy is the first time Lynn commits to anything, and the motivating yet pointedly misguided ghost of a purpose begins to form within her.
Stillness has a sovereign grip on the film’s feel. Camera movement is rare in the depiction of Lynn’s world. We are not moving through China but hopping and skipping through a series of rigid vignettes. There is a palpable sense of distance as the camera is still: a coldness that reinforces Lynn’s speck-on-the-radar existence, hammered in by the fact that she blends into every space she occupies.
From cramped, dingy street shops to bright, bustling conference halls and everything in between, every space in the film has a direct effect on Lynn’s state of mind. She is forced into corners of the frame, while her location and the external characters take a spatial priority. Yet she becomes the focus due to her self-isolation, a sore spot in the frame just as she feels in her own body.
While it’s the stunning photography that seizes the eye, it’s Honggui Yao’s performance that entraps it, sustaining the film’s lure through its runtime. She embodies Lynn with down-to-earth excellence. There are no fireworks to her depiction: no dramatic monologues or flashy emotional displays. Lynn is meek and languid, and Yao manifests a combination of timidity and persistence with complete empathetic effect. There is desperation in Lynn, but also a quiet strength that she embodies as she moves through the world. She is not pathetic. Lynn walks uphill against the wind, but she is trekking the terrain regardless, and Yao masterfully personifies these levels and, often, without words.