WTF ASIA 213: Passer By (2017)

WTF ASIA’s first Mongolian film forms the second part of the unofficial Dead Father Trilogy. No, the son does not seek vengeance.

Passer By (2017) - IMDb

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 115 minutes. I cannot guarantee that these are not the James Nesbit movie. Also, it is on AsianCrush and Tubi, though the Tubi version is slightly slower, making it just under 2 hours.

 

 

Sukhbataar, or Sukhee, waits outside the airport for a taxi. One arrives and takes him through the city. He goes to a residential area and knocks on a door, asking for someone named Tsetsgee. The man who lives there tells him that she left two or three years ago. He does give her number to Sukhee.

The taxi takes Sukhee to a bus station, or something like that. After wandering around for a while, he gets in a vehicle bound for Uvurkhangai province. He asks the passenger next to him for her phone so that he can call Tsetsgee.

I guess that Tsetsgee picks up on the ride to Uvurkhangai, but she is not happy to hear from Sukhee. She reminds him that they had split up and tells him that their son is trying to forget him. Perhaps when the boy is old enough to understand things, he can meet his father again. Sukhee does not seem to argue.

Sukhee takes a motorcycle ride through the countryside to his father’s ger, or yurt. If he had planned on meeting his father, it is too later. All that is a little fire in front of a photograph. Sukhee seems shocked, but he pays his respects anyways.

Sukhee waits around until his brother Sainaa arrives. Sainaa seems surprised to see Sukhee but, after some hesitation, embraces him as he bursts into tears. Sukhee thinks back to his last phone call with his father. He had told his father to go to a city hospital for treatment, but his father had said that the treatment here was just fine. He then had asked Sukhee to visit more often, but Sukhee had kind of dismissed that, saying it was too difficult going back and forth.  Sainaa explains that their father left the hospital soon after that conversation. He was fine for a few days, but suddenly got ill. He tries to change the subject and get Sukhee to eat, but Sukhee wants to visit the grave. So, Sainaa goes to get the horses.

Sainaa takes Sukhee to a place in the field. There are no obvious markers of a grave, but they pay respects. Saina walks back to the horses and Sukhee quietly asks his father for forgiveness before walking off as well.

After a night’s rest, Sukhee goes to see Sainaa milking cows that he had gathered for the funeral. Sainaa tells him to go water the horses, which I guess means extracting water from a small well and putting it in a trough where the horses are. But Sainaa comes over does it instead, so Sukhee sits on a hill. Sainaa asks if Sukhee is staying long. Sukhee says that he has urgent work, so he can stay for only a short while. Sainaa insists that he stay for a few days, or at least during the hay-making.

Sukhee changes the subject to Sainaa getting married. Sainaa says that he would if it were possible; that he is interested in Ariunaa, daughter of Jaajaa. Sukhee remembers Ariunaa as a kid. Sainaa tells him that she has become a beautiful woman. He claims that he would have had her, if not for Jaajaa’s new neighbor who undermines his attempts to chat up Arjunaa. Sukhee asks whether Ariunaa has any feelings for the other guy, but Sainaa has no idea, as she and the other guy have not exchanged a full sentence. On the other hand, Sukhee doubts if she will reveal her true feelings to a chatterbox like Sainaa. Screw it, figures Sainaa. How about they go over to Jaajaa’s and Sukhee can tell Arjunaa how great Sainaa is. Sukhee does not want to wander around, but Sainaa says that elders like Jaajaa would be offended if he did not visit.

A man named Myatav arrives on a motorcycle and Sainaa introduces him to his brother. Oh, so that’s the new neighbor. Sainaa claims that Myatav deliberately brought his horses to the well at the same time that Sainaa did. After Sainaa needles Myatav some more, he and Sukhee take a couple horses to go visit Jaajaa.

Ariunaa is already outside when Sukhee and Sainaa arrive. When Sukhee sees her, he teasingly tells Sainaa that he has no chance. Regardless, the two tie their horses to a…thingamee…and go into the ger.

Jaajaa’s family seems to consist of him, his wife, his daughter, and his daughter-in-law. They treat the two men to tea, food, and…snuff. Sainaa and Jaajaa discuss whether Sainaa can fix his car using parts from Jaajaa’s also broken-down car in time for the hay business as Sukhee takes a glance at Ariunaa. Sainaa leaves to check on the car, leaving Sukhee to talk with Jaajaa.

Almost immediately, Jaajaa starts guilt tripping Sukhee about not coming to see his father sooner. Sukhee tries to explain why, but it is clear that his heart is not in it. Jaajaa semi-blames Sukhee for inspiring his son, Bataa, to go trucking on the border, which had once been profitable, but no longer is. Of course, people had been leaving for decades. This area was once happy and full of families, but no longer. He fears that Bataa will take the rest of the family away, leaving no one here. Eventually, Sainaa returns and tells Sukhee that they should help Ariunaa with milking the mares. Jaajaa does not understand why Sukhee needs to go, but Sukhee goes. After he leaves, Jaajaa notes that the once cleverly sharp Sukhee has gotten really dull; perhaps all those years working under someone has changed him.

Jaajaa is shamelessly flirting with Ariunaa when Sukhee arrives. She happily humors him, but ends up more intrigued by Sukhee and goes closer to him. Sukhee notes that the little kid who collected rocks is has become a nice-looking woman, but she claims that he has not changed much. Sainaa shouts out that so many men have called her nice that it has made her too arrogant to consider them. Ariunaa shoots back that Sainaa had called her pretty before anyone else did, but then he says that she had already become arrogant at that point. Real smooth, Sainaa. At least she seems to find amusement in the back and forth.

Matyav shows up and lays down on the ground until Sainaa asks him to help out carrying some buckets. And here comes the part of the plan where Sukhee talks to Ariunaa about…oh, she wants to know if South Korea is nice. He says not that nice, but you can live if you have work. She talks of the movies where attractive people drive nice cars and live in big houses and are really happy. Hey, that applies to maybe one of the last ten Korean movies that I featured here. Sukhee says that some people live like in those movies, but others live worse. She asks for stories, something different from what she sees every day. He…uh…could tell her how to make zippers for trousers. Not too exciting, I suppose, but they remain chatting for a while until Sukhee goes to visit another family that might be leaving soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a while, it appears that the movie may be centering on a love triangle between Ariunaa and the two brothers. And…in a sense…it is…but not really. There is no competition for her heart…unless you count Sainaa and Maytav. Ah, Maytev. He may dress well and ride that motorcycle, but he is an awkward little weirdo with no social skills whatsoever. His antics, creepy as they might be, are sort of played for laughs, and it is clear that he has no chance. As for Sukhee, he may be drawn to Ariunaa, but he knows that he cannot stay with her, nor will he leave with her. So, he tries to avoid even thinking about it.

The movie seems to be more about people who are trying to be good and struggling to figure out what that means. It is clear from the beginning that Sukhee had majorly messed up at some point in his life. We never really learn of the details, but he seems to have deep shame for what happened. His wife left him and took his son, forbidding a reunion until the boy is old enough to understand the complexities his father’s mistake. And Sukhee makes no effort to defend himself, suggesting that he accepts his responsibility for the split. Unable to see his son, he goes to see his father, only to find that his father is dead. Unable to redeem himself to his son or his father, he attempts to do so for his brother. But his brother does not quite understand why he is behaving this way, mostly because Sukhee does not really open up much about his time away from home.

Not counting Mongol by Sergei Bodrov in 2007, this was the first Mongolian film that I have ever seen. As such, it is far too tempting for me to see this movie as a commentary on the nation itself. I suppose that when one thinks of Mongolia, one thinks of the Mongols. Nomads and glorious conquerors of centuries past. But that was the past. And now what is there? Legends, myths, and memories. People can hold onto those memories by giving their children ancient names and holding onto old customs, but that works for only so long.

Much of the movie takes place in vast fields of Uvurkhangai, or Övörkhangai. It is beautiful to look at, and perhaps is a lovely place to visit. I am not sure that I want to live there. It just seems so…empty. There is a town shown later in the film that I gather serves as the province’s administrative center. Other than that? Open fields with the occasional ger. Yes, Jaajaa remembers a time the place was full of families, but how full could this place have been? This could just be my city slicker biases showing, but whatever.

So, many people left. Who is left? Jaajaa is probably too old to leave, as was Sukhee’s father. Jaajaa probably masks his inability to leave as a choice, treating it as a failure of character on the part of weak men who could not cut it as real men. Regardless, the opportunity to leave has passed him by.

And the next generation? Ariunaa seems to view leaving as a dream; a nice fantasy that keeps her pacified, but not something that she ever considers acting on. She knows that it is possible to leave, and perhaps there is a sense of power in choosing to stay. Sainaa views anything beyond the administrative town with fear. He had been in the army for a year and that was too much for him. As for Maytav? I don’t think that he even considers leaving; the city would probably eat him alive. Could these people keep the traditions alive? Who knows?

And then there is Sukhee, who has experience in the world outside of the outside. And…he does not seem to want to talk about it much. He tends to be very terse in his descriptions of his life since he left. He says that he works to earn a living, making zippers at a factory, but he keeps things rather vague otherwise. There does seem to be in him a bit of nostalgia for the fields of Uvurkhangai, but he cannot indulge as much as he might want to. The place is not what it had been and he cannot stay anyways. Look at the clothes that he wears when not performing a ritual. He no longer belongs here. He is a passerby.    

In any case, the fields of Uvurkhangai have been emptying out for years. Sukhee was neither the first nor the last to leave. Perhaps they see little future on the fields or they see better opportunities elsewhere. So where do they go? They may go to the mining areas, like Jaajaa’s son Bataa, though that seems to have become a dead end as well. Others seem to go to the cities where there are multiple opportunities, though the city shown at the start of the film does not seem to be all that impressive either.

Then there is South Korea. Seoul is around 1300 miles away from Uvurkhangai, but it might as well be another world. It is not, though. The Mongols ruled over the Korean peninsula from 1270 to 1356 after nearly 40 years of invasion attempts. Many Koreans like to believe that they have some Mongol heritage and it has been argued that there are enough linguistic commonalities for Mongolians to pick up the Korean language. I am not sure if either is true, but whatever. Ariunaa views it as part of her fantasyland, to be experienced only through movies and her imagination. Jaajaa is contemptuous, badmouthing the food and calling into question the masculinity of Korean men. Sukhee…would rather not talk about it.

Throughout the movie, there seems to be longing for the past before regret and uncertainty about the future. If only people had not left Uvurkhangai. If only there were still things left for them to keep them from leaving. If only Sukhee did not ruin his life. If only he had returned to help his father. What will happen to Uvurkhangai? What will happen to their way of life? What will happen to Mongolia? Only Ariunaa seems to be at peace with her life, living for the present while letting hopeful dreams of a fantasy future comfort her. Pretty much everyone else seems sad. This movie is rather sad. But it…kind…of…ends on a hopeful note. Well, perhaps not ful…more like some. Hopesome. It’s good.

 

 

 

 

 

WTF ASIA 214: The Third Murder (Japan: 2017, approx. 125 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in CanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.

 

WTF ASIA 215: A Touch of Sin (China: 2013, approx. 130 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.