Review: If You See Her, Say Hello (2020)

Visions du Réel
International Medium Length & Short Film Competition
Special Jury Award-Short Film offered by Mémoire Vive

Courtesy of Visions du Réel

When the big industry dies, it drags the cities built around it to hell. Industrial buildings are left to crumble to dust, so is the infrastructure. People already heavily consumed by labor in factories and refineries are ruthlessly spat out to search for new job oportunities somewhere else.

Once a center of huge oil production, an anonymous town in North China had to re-brand itself when most of its former inhabitans had emigrated to the south. Nowadays, the city is divided in two parts: the decaying shadow of its glorious industrial past and the new, modern version of itself – almost a new “center of the universe”, as the main protagonist (voiced by Jiajun Oscar Zhang) of Hee Young Pyun & Jiajun Oscar Zhang’s short documentary When You See Her Say Hello, and the native of the city used to think about it many years ago. Although he is ‘just’ a voice-over of someone else’s experience of the new life that thrives there – of a traveller (Yunxiang Wang) exploring the old and the new, he is never in the background. It’s his memories and experiences that guide us through the film, even if the face of the one we are following around the city belongs to another man. The two impressions of the city mix together. One man is talking to a friend (Yiran Zhang) about his past, the other one is searching for the traces of past in the present.

Before the collapse, 200 trucks transported oil daily, and returned loaded with goods and supplies for the people, which we find out from the narrator’s account. Not even trains ever stopped in the city, which is “far away from anything.” The newcomer has somehow managed to get there, and he’s exploring the city.

After their first joint project In The Blanks (2015), a short documentary shot in “empty London” in which images were set to the sound of a couple conversing about different topics, the directorial duo Hee Young Pyun & Oscar Jiajun Zhang is back with a film that explores another urban space with an unique eye. The connection between the still (35 mm) images, video footage shot by the hand-held camera and the voice-over by a man who’s reminiscing about his childhood in the indistrial city he grew up in, is established through another person, a neutral observer who can experience the city from a fresh perspective.

The decaying part of the town stands in sharp contrast to its flashy twin that looks just like any of the modern, fast built towns. At night, it is lit like an amusement park, with bright light coming from the advertising boxes, fountains and sculptures. Next to it, the buildings of the former settlement are hid by darkness and slowly conquered by the vegetation.

Man’s voice often returns to the memory of a girl from his childhood. He wants to know where she is. Maybe in the empty cinema where couples still meet in secret? The traveller is curiously strolling through the empty houses, dressed in the red uniform worn by the people employed by the oil company once upon a time.

The past and the present come together in If You See Her, say Hello to re-tell a story of a city that died, and was born again, both in one’s man memory and in reality.

The film had its world premiere in the International Medium Length & Short Film Competition of Visions du Réel where it won the Special Jury Award–Short Film offered by Mémoire Vive. ‘slowly moving images’.

Country: China
Language: Mandarin
Year: 2020
Release Date: 17. April 2021
Runtime: 18′
Produced by: Huang Xufeng, Liang Ling
Line Producer: Sunan (Sue) Lin
Administrative Producer: Yang Xiaopeng
Written/ Directed by: Hee Young Pyun & Jiajun Oscar Zhang
Cinematographer: Peter Pan
35mm still photos: Hee Young Pyun & Jiajun Oscar Zhang
Sound Recording: Keenen Yong
Sound Mixing: Yun Kyung Kim
Production Manager: Yunxiang Wang
CTO: Roy Yang
Colour Grading: May Chen
Online Editing: Chang Hsien Lee, Yi Hsun Yeh
With: Yunxiang Wang, Yilei, Jiheng Peng