‘Growing Apart,’ a Poignant Family Drama Set in China’s One-Child Era

Protagonist Cheng Fei, whose family openly favors sons, witnesses how the one-child policy causes strife for each of the women in his life

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7:03 PM HKT, Thu September 1, 2022 1 mins read

In 2015, China ended its controversial three-decade-long one-child policy. Still, the policy and its ramifications have left their mark upon those born in China in and after the 1980s. Long Lingyun, director of Growing Apart, is one such national.

When Long first learned of the rule reversal, he felt compelled to write a story about how the now-defunct policy has altered the lives of ordinary people.

Further inspiration came from one of Long’s close female friends, whose parents divorced when she was two years old because her father and paternal grandmother wanted a male heir. Unsettled by his friend’s first-hand experience, Long began to conjure a story as told from the perspective of a young boy whose family preferred male heirs.

Growing Apart Film

The result is Growing Apart, a film focusing on the individual fates of those subjected to the one-child policy.

The film avoids diving deeply into the policy. Instead, the story is told from a teenage boy’s point of view. Cheng Fei, whose family openly favors sons, witnesses how the policy causes strife for each woman in his life.

Audiences learn that prior to fathering Fei, the teenager’s father, Cheng Jianguo, divorced a woman by the name of He Xiuqin for giving birth to a daughter, He Sheng.

Growing Apart, which primarily revolves around the step-siblings who have a chance encounter, is a poignant and vivid tale about two broken families, as well as coming-of-age sentiments.

Growing Apart Film

The film premiered at this year’s FIRST International Film Festival and won the Audience Award for Narrative Feature. The critically acclaimed film ingeniously weaves gender issues into the burden of the one-child policy imposed upon an average family.

By only allowing Chinese couples to bear a single child, China’s preexisting gender inequality was further compounded. The undercurrent of sexism in a patriarchal society had suddenly come into the light: boys were favored, and girls were undesirable.

Growing Apart Film

Besides exploring the repercussions of the one-child policy, Growing Apart provides a sincere portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. Permeated with tension, hysteria, and reconciliation, the fraught interactions between the two female characters caused many audience members to shed tears during the screening.

The theme of generational discord between Asian mothers and daughters has recently found cinematic successes in the likes of Pixar’s Turning Red (directed by Domee Shi), Everything Everywhere All at Once (directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), and The Falls (directed by Chung Mong-hong), which won a Golden Horse Best Feature Film award.

While Long’s latest film could be considered a tragedy, none of the complex characters is typecast as good or bad; instead, every character is a victim of the era.

Though an official release date for the film has yet to be announced, it has acquired a distribution license.

In the meantime, log on to Amazon to stream One Child Nation, an award-winning documentary that recounts the one-child policy comprehensively.

All images via Douban

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