A documentary-cum-vacation-movie, We Went to Wonderland depicts the maiden European holiday of an older Chinese couple as shot by their daughter Guo Xiaolu. Unable to speak because of throat cancer surgery, the husband (whose eagerness to see the world is the trip’s impetus) struggles to converse via hand-written notes, an example of communication difficulties that are subtly mirrored by the couple’s cultural alienation in Europe, a place where they don’t speak the language and about which—because of a lack of education—the wife knows practically nothing. Generational divisions further define the duo’s journey, as the husband remarks that whereas he once (as part of the Cultural Revolution) painted propaganda art and outlawed mahjong, he’s now free to explore his own artistic impulses as well as encouraged by his wife to play the traditional Chinese game. Guo’s black-and-white cinematography alternates between being starkly lustrous and grainy and flat, though less uneven is her deft use of still-photo montages to convey the closeness of her subjects to their distant (but dear to their hearts) Chinese homeland. In scenes featuring the couple somewhat befuddled by their Western surroundings, We Went to Wonderland expresses how globalization has yet to completely change the fact that the world remains an enormous, imposing, largely foreign place for its inhabitants when they venture outside familiar borders. After confessing that she was initially scared of England, the wife admits her fears have dissipated because she now has “emotion to this place,” a phrase that pinpoints the way our sense of home is defined as much by sentiment and thought as by physical geography. Still, her heart belongs to China (where she can truly “feel”), though the same doesn’t necessarily hold true for her husband, who says that Chinese trash collection is superior to that of Western Europe but also, finally, muses that, by tearing down ancient buildings to construct towering skyscrapers, the East has detrimentally severed ties with (personal and national) history.
- 76 min
- Guo Xiaolu
- Guo Xiaolu
- Guo Xiulin, Li Heyin
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