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The Best is Yet to Come Movie Review


The Best Is Yet to Come | 2020 Venice Film Festival Review

The Best Is Yet to Come | 2020 Venice Film Festival Review

Disease Beat: Jing Revisits the Turn of the Century with Saccharine Debut

Whenever the protégé of a major contemporary auteur branches out into their own cinematic endeavor, it becomes an immediate item of interest, and such is the initial major selling point of The Best Is Yet to Come, the directorial debut of Wang Jing, who worked as an assistant director on the last three features from Jia Zhang-ke (A Touch of Sin; Mountains May Depart; Ash is Purest White). Zhang-ke himself provides a producer credit on the feature (and also appears in cameo on-screen), and even as the narrative would suggest this to be subject matter in the vein of Zhang-ke’s wheelhouse, who has turned to genre-tinged narratives of late in deliberations on contemporary issues facing China’s working class, such comparisons are short-lived.

As a noted period piece highlighting turn-of-the-century discrimination and the importance of upholding the integrity once reserved for journalism, Jing does a fine job of balancing several elements and statements of forgotten complexities which have mutated into other interests and guises. However, a few too many dips into overtly sentimental clichés ruin the begrudging good will established in a portrait of a man working against the odds of the system without selling his soul to achieve success. We learn, wrapped in this portrait of China circa 2003, its basis is the life of Han Fudong, former chief reporter of the Southern Metropolis Daily.

In 2003, China was coping with the aftershocks of the SARS epidemic. Meanwhile, another major industry, print journalism, was on the verge of its own cataclysmic transition. With social unrest and unstable economies defining the mood of the era, a group of young adults make the difficult to move to Beijing in this tenuous period. Han Dong (White K) desires to be a journalist, though he failed to obtain his degree and faces stiff competition with more educated applicants lobbying for an internship position at Jincheng Times. While his girlfriend Xiao Zhu (Miao Miao) is also struggling to achieve her dreams as she supports Han Dong, a break comes when editor Huang Jiang (Zhang Songwen) takes notice of him, leading to an initial assignment at a mining accident in Shang Xi. Posing as one of the miners affected by a tragic collapse, Han Don realizes he has been naive about his pursuits in journalism—he needs to focus on stories which would engage a mechanism of social change. He stumbles on a thread leading into the illegal blood trade, wherein citizens who are diagnosed with Hepatitis B will pay for falsified documentation to state otherwise because many laws allow employers, higher education facilities, and landlords to refuse to hire or serve citizens who have this ‘communicable disease,’ dating back to laws establish two decades prior. But as Han Don digs deeper into his research, he realizes the situation is more complex than he could have predicted, and his commitment to ethical journalism leads him to make some significant sacrifices.

What seems most curious about The Best Is Yet to Come is how its handling of Han Dong reads like a rosy-tinted, dog-eared portrait of the valiant and heroic journalist seen time and again in American cinema. The cinema of Zhang-ke showcases those forced to the cultural periphery (at least in a working-class sense), and one wonders what his entry point into this narrative might have been.

True, Han Dong must overcome the stigma of a failed education, but this is nothing compared to the tribulations of his subjects, particularly the tribulations of his best friend, Zhang Bo (Song Yang). Not unlike the treatment of members of the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of HIV in the United States, the Chinese government’s reactions and responses to those infected with Hepatitis B highlight the important part journalism played in shining a light on the lagging discrepancies of the legal justice system and healthcare realities (and again, not unlike current laws in much of the U.S. preventing gay men from donating blood, and so on and so forth). And for this reason, more than any other, The Best Is Yet to Come finds salvation in these illuminating truths.

While exuding a noble but humble sensibility, White K’s performance as another journalist who sacrifices career options to do the right thing doesn’t allow for much by way of surprise. Instead, its more interesting (and perhaps prophetic) how Jing returned to a particularly potent period of Chinese history and pandemic fears following the SARS outbreak, and would end up completing post-production in isolation during COVID-19 sanctioned quarantine. But where Jing really hobbles himself are with the bookended sequences which play like Hallmark card entries, in spirit with the intentions of the film’s title. “Everything that happens in this world is somehow connected with us,” finds it’s way to a slo-mo newspaper toss reflecting what was once a powerful tool for initiating positive change through the spread of authentic information, the newspaper, has long been a thing of the past. And, thus foregoing the irony of the current state of the world and how the internet and social media would dictate the kind of entertainment value which now would have had to accompany the revelations about health-related discrimination to register as a news ‘trend.’

As an exercise of journalist vs. documentarian (which is arguably the humanistic outlet the scripted version of this character could have evolved into), The Best Is Yet to Come does succeed in reframing the need to keep in mind the human component of one’s subjects or risk becoming another exploitative link in system designed for the benefits of a seated majority. If only its obviousness wasn’t doubly compounded by mawkish window dressing, it might have retained equal parts potency.

Reviewed virtually on September 10th at the 2020 Venice Film Festival. Orizzonti (Horizons) Competition – 115 Mins


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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