‘A New Old Play’ tugs at heartstrings and engages with what it means to be human

Ryan Ranc, Life & Arts Reporter

Qiu Jiongjiong’s “A New Old Play” follows Qiu Fu (Yi Sicheng), a well known Chinese operatic actor, as he is picked up by a traveling show duo and taken to the Underworld, reliving his life one last time before being stripped of his memories. The movie was showcased at the Austin Asian American Film Festival.

Each set piece of this movie, made to mimic a broadway stage, engages the audience in a story told through the memory of someone who spent their life on stage. Footsteps heard throughout the movie sound like actors’ soft shoes worn on show days. Another great use of the stage aesthetic came in moments with boats on the water, where cloth was used to create an illusion of water much like you’d see in any other staged play. Setting the scene with Broadway-level stage pieces creates a dichotomy that blurs the line of whether this movie is a play or a film. The interesting choice intrigues audiences through a theatrical set design offset by visual aspects of an average movie, with different angles and perspectives allowing audiences to engage more actively with the story’s content.

Audiences follow Qui Fu throughout his entire life, from his humble beginnings as a child to his thriving career as an actor and his struggles with caring for his family. As Qui Fu ages, the audience witnesses how he maintains both his family and stage career amidst the historical background of 20th century China during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, when communism shaped society and the economy. These events resulted in widespread famine through the country, which affected Qui Fu throughout his life. Despite the difficulty of balancing a growing family and a stage career, he manages to stay mostly positive through his self-deprecating comedic beats that, while incredibly dark and depressing for audiences, brighten up his mood. His story ends after he loses his memory to fully enter into the Underworld.

The only thing holding back this movie is its unnecessarily long length. This may appear to be a minor issue, but the movie runs nearly 180 minutes, and the project’s slow pacing can make this journey feel more like a trek than an expedition. That being said, every second of time utilized to further the life story of Qui Fu is beautifully crafted despite its handful of slow moments. General audiences may have an issue with this run time, but those approaching it with an artistic perspective will see the beauty and intentionality in every scene. 

“A New Old Play” offers a lot for audiences to enjoy. It’s very much an artistic movie that seeks to leave audiences with a visually stimulating experience, but it also succeeds in communicating a message and story that will stick with audiences and impact how they view life. In a way, audiences will be able to resonate with Qui Fu and his simultaneous sadness and joy within his lifetime, not necessarily in regard to the historical tragedies he lived through, but rather in the very essence of what it means to be human.

4 fake waves made of cloth out of 5