AUGUST 15TH

a film by Jiang Xuan

SHORT / SUPER 16 / 20 MIN / COLOR / CHINA / 2008

Based on a real life event, a young Chinese woman boards a bus with her boyfriend to head home to meet his parents. What was supposed to be a joyful holiday turns unpredictable when a pair of countryside crooks hijack their bus. Traveling through China’s dangerous mountain passes, the passengers must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice for their own safety.

REVIEW

August 15th is a harrowing portrayal of real life events that took place on a commuter bus in rural China. Two men board a passenger bus and rob everyone. This film is not about that event. Another, more heinous crime takes place. Yet, this film is not about that tragic event, either. August 15th asks the viewer to look at the inaction of another audience who sits idly by and does nothing when evil is committed.

On the first day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, a young couple is on their way to his parents’ home.  He explains to her that his parents live just on the other side of a mountain, about two hours away. The Girl looks apprehensive. This may the first time she visits his family home. At knife-point, the Boyfriend puts up a mild resistance but moves to the front. The bus driver keeps driving. And then a violent sexual assault takes place. The passengers’ reaction is inaction.  Their collective silence seems to ask, “Why did this have to happen on their commute?” I am now reminded of Edmund Burke’s thoughts. “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle” he said. More recent events on buses are a sad and sobering reminder of the veracity of his words.

This film is an impressive effort by writer and director Jiang Xuan. One such impressive element is Xuan’s framing choices that well support the narrative. Over and over I return to one shot I think is exquisite. It says so much. When the sexual assault is over, we see The Girl’s face in a close up. Another close up follows. The Robber looks back towards the rear of the bus. He signed up as an armed robber; not a rapist. He seems remorseful. From his close up, the camera pans left across several rows of seats. A man stares straight ahead. A mother covers her son’s ears with her hands. Another man looks down. One by one, we see strangers who sat by and said nothing. Did nothing.

At one point the Rapist asks The Girl, “What do you want?” She says nothing. Three POV shots follow in quick succession. We see faces of people. When the act was over, as she adjusts her clothes, everyone looks to the rear of the bus. But now, every one looks elsewhere. A close up of The Girl follows. What she wants is beyond clear. Her following actions convey her wants. She wanted someone to help. She wanted to not be a rape victim.