KCrush Interview With “Brief History of a Family” Filmmaker Jianjie Lin – Sundance 2024

February 7, 2024 | 798 Visits


Premiering at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, Brief History of a Family, is first time feature writer and director Jianjie Lin’s tense, methodically paced, and layered examination of the effects of China’s infamous political strategy known as the ‘One Child Policy’ on a small well-off middle-class family and their mysterious young acquaintance.

Starring newcomer to the screen Lin Muran as Wei a high schooler and aspiring professional fencing athlete who cautiously befriends Sun Xilun’s enigmatic Shuo, Brief History of a Family takes a nation-wide government policy and shrinks it down to the micro – literally and figuratively. By focusing on how a family left with no choice but to remain as Father, Mother, and Son Lin ascertains how they could each see the possibilities of becoming more than just three when a new child with a painful past, and troubled present enters their life.

Lin’s intent with the film isn’t only to critique this once upon a time unique aspect of Chinese culture, but to examine the intricate dynamics of a family where each member has their own expectations of what they want from each other, personally, and even culturally. With the Mum played Guo Keyu, we see a woman who after giving up her job as a Flight Attendant, longs to be needed as a caretaker and finds that with Shuo whose seemingly small gestures like the giving of an orange in appreciation, is seen as a sign that he values the things she does for him.


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In the Dad (Zu Feng), there’s the initial impression of a strict taskmaster who only sees his son Wei as an extension of him, and is expected to be the perfect student going on to having the perfect career befitting their status in a bustling upscale Chinese city. But that’s not quite the case as Lin adds layers to both parents by subverting the expected trope of the “Tiger Mom”, and the emotionally repressed father. Both Zu and Guo’s performances are fine tuned to reveal the depth of their characters bit by bit and as methodically performed as the film’s pacing itself.

Of course, there’s the two young leads, Lin and Sun whose performances really ground the film admirably supporting it with their performances that swing wildly from easy but cautious camaraderie during bouts of playing games to intense scuffles and stare downs. Just as with the parents, Lin has carefully crafted two characters that are much more than they appear on the surface.


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Like cells under a microscope (a visual theme used throughout the film), the real nature of Wei and Shuo is revealed as the story progresses. You wonder who to trust and believe and question your own preconceived ideas, whether accurate or flawed, of who these boys really are, and are perhaps based on their social status and personalities.

In my interview with Lin Jianjie during Sundance, we discussed these themes presented in the film, how his educational background in the field of Biomechanics, and Chinese culture all came together to create this particular family portrait. We also spoke about the film’s score by composer Toke Brornson Odin, and cinematographer Zhang Jihao created the auditory and visual landscape of the film and are tied to certain aspects of the characters.


Carolyn Hinds

Freelance Critic, Journalist & Podcaster
African American Film Critics Association Member, Tomatometer-Approved Critic
Co-Host & Producer So Here’s What Happened! Podcast
Bylines at http://Authory.com/CarolynHinds
Phone: (647)216 – 5283
Twitter & Instagram: @CarrieCnh12


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