REVIEW: The Best is Yet to Come (TIFF 2020)
Jin Wang’s directorial debut is an exploration of existential themes regarding stigmas and success. Set in 2003 Beijing, the film looks at various social barriers that stand in the way of dreams and the impact that mass media has in creating change. The Best is Yet to Come is poetic and emotional, digging into human problems by slowly peeling back the layers on the ugly side of existence.
Han Dong (Bai Ke) is a middle school dropout who dreams of being a journalist. He believes he can change the world with his writing and is motivated to get a job despite his lack of formal education. Luckily, his online writing is found by Huang Jiang, the Jingcheng Daily’s chief correspondent, who offers Han Dong the rare opportunity of an internship. Slowly, his reputation around the newspaper grows as the publication is impressed with his dedication and Han Dong throws himself in the streets in order to find stories that need to be told.
This is how Han Dong discovers an illegal underground blood exchange. His undercover investigation reveals a whole system of doctors who help those who are Hepatitis B positive pass health screenings that would otherwise stop them from getting jobs, going to college, or pursuing other steps towards a future. Due to the public health concerns involved in this operation, Han Dong believes he has found a way to secure his dream position but is it worth the lives and futures of those who need a clean bill of health to fulfill their own goals?
At this time in China, in a post-SARS world, the particulars of a Hepatitis B diagnosis were unknown. Many thought someone who was positive could spread the virus just through touch. Others feared the fact that Hepatitis B was incurable, furthering the stigma that catching it would lead to some sort of doom. This fear led to shame, and ultimately the discrimination against those who had Hepatitis B, including children and young people.
While the entire runtime of almost two hours is full of twists and turns, The Best is Yet to Come slowly develops, allowing every nuance to be understood. Though there is no voiceover or narration, Han Dong’s motivations are visible and digestible, making him a character that feels familiar. At the same time, his moral compass is a little too selfless making his decisions throughout the film a little predictable and unrealistic.
The visuals in the film are impressive and the many night scenes of the Beijing city streets are alluring. Cinematographer Yu Lik Wai is not new to the Chinese film scene, as he has worked with fellow director and Jin Wang’s mentor, Jia Zhang-ke on multiple projects. The overall mood and presence of the urban environment that is full of opportunity is alive through what the camera captures, bringing the risk involved in the story to life.
Because of the current situation with the coronavirus, the public health concern shown in the film feels eerie and pertinent. Obviously, there is no way the filmmaker knew a global pandemic of this sort was going to surround the release of this project but it adds an extra layer to the viewing experience. In a time where many are out of work or feeling hopeless about the future, the question of what one is willing to do to guarantee a life worth living is worth examining.
“Distance sparks reflection,” the director stated when talking about the post-production being completed online, with the editor 1300 kilometers away. While this is true in physical distance, it is also true in relation to time. The Best is Yet to Come contemplates the events of 2003 in hindsight, showing a different side to the thought processes and public opinion at that time. Maybe as a human society, we are constantly stuck in this cycle of looking to the past to try and learn for the future without realizing the future is now. Maybe this current pandemic is our time to reevaluate what is considered normal in our society and challenge all inequalities that still exist.