Directed by Fan Jian
Produced by Youku Tudou
Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles
88 minutes in duration
Trailer available on YouTube.
If I were to describe Still Tomorrow in one word, it would be “surprising.” The storyline of the documentary and the main focus of the film, poet Yu Xiuhua, were not what and who I expected them to be at all. Not bad or good, just surprising.
When you hear of a woman from rural Hubei, who has had cerebral palsy since birth, is a nationally recognized poet, adored by the netizens of contemporary China, and who writes candidly about love, marriage, and intimacy as she heatedly seeks a divorce from her husband of 20 years, you do not imagine that you are describing one individual woman. But that is Yu Xiuhua. This film, created by Fan Jian, documents her journey through these events, following her from her humble beginnings, through her rise to fame, and to her ultimate pursuit of freedom and happiness.
Yu Xiuhua found success when her poem “I Crossed Half of China to Sleep with You” went viral—reposted over a million times on social media in January 2015. From that time she became known in China as “the sound of our times,” as one who unabashedly speaks her heart and mind.
Poetry makes me understand that it’s important to live on. It supports me. Without poetry, life is empty. When I write, I feel poems give me peace and tranquility.
Many who have read Yu’s poem are drawn to her, reading her other works, attending seminars, studying her writing. She has been called “China’s Emily Dickinson,” a title she denies, as she believes everyone has their own unique style and, it makes little sense to compare.
Readers, including literary experts and professors are intrigued by her writings. Because of the physical challenges she must overcome to produce her art, some call her a “brain-paralyzed peasant poet.”
I believe that Yu’s popularity has less to do with her poetic prowess and more to do with her ability to communicate raw, relevant empathy to a generation that, much like her, longs for authentic human connection. She is an example in contemporary China of having honest, deep feelings but not knowing what to do with them. She speaks on behalf of the masses who want a voice—who want to be heard, seen, acknowledged, and loved. She embodies courage, resilience, and determination in the face of immense difficulty.
When interviewed, Yu is very open about her personal feelings. A reader asked her what it takes to be a happy woman and she matter-of-factly said she’s never been happy so she doesn’t know. She is unapologetic about her work. She knows that some people misconstrue her writing as vulgar but she is boldly confident, and with a great sense of humor, she remains approachable and kind.
If a woman can’t find love, her life is a failure. I’ve always been a failure. Love is so far away from me. Precisely because it is far away, I can’t make peace with myself. I can’t give up. That’s why I chased and failed again and again.
Culturally, Yu is breaking down barriers about what can and cannot be said openly, especially by women. It is clear that by sharing her own feelings of pain, despair, and loneliness, she has found a captive audience. There are a lot of people in China who feel the same as she does. She isn’t saying anything necessarily new, instead she’s saying what so many people are thinking. And doing it artistically and eloquently.
The sad part is, despite how supportive poetry is to her, no matter how many poems Yu writes, she’s still struggling to find peace, hope, and joy in her life. And for her readers, though they may feel understood for a moment, that feeling is fleeting. Yu Xiuhua and her fans are all looking for the same thing, to fill the void in their lives. Unfortunately, nothing seems to satisfy.
I’m scared. Don’t know where fate takes me. I am raised up so high, will I suddenly fall and break into pieces?
This documentary has many layers, commentary from multiple angles, and is sure to ignite discussion on a variety of controversial topics. Still Tomorrow is a worthy watch. It may not be what you expect, but you’ll leave feeling wowed.
Hannah Lau is a marketing consultant for ChinaSource, managing external communication and marketing processes including social media. Originally from Canada, Hannah served for a time in China where she began her career in advertising. A few years ago she left the corporate sector and took her skills to the non-profit sector, …View Full Bio
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