Review of ‘The Enigma of Arrival’ by Song Wen

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Four friends meet again after many years at a private dinner in a Japanese spa resort in China.

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Review by Dominique Musorrafiti


During their youth, in the 90s, Xiaolong, Fang Yuan, Da Si, and San Pi shared a passion for motorcycles and girls. In that period they had become friends with Liu Xiaomei and Dongdong, the latter a promising young athlete who had particularly struck their attention for her beauty.

Their days alternated between moments of leisure at the cinema, at the restaurant, at the disco, between light-heartedness, idleness, and micro-crime to escape a bit from everyday life. The four after stealing diesel from a local gang to get money for a new motorbike, begin a downward spiral.

“The Enigma of Arrival ( 抵达之谜 ) is the debut movie of director Song Wen, co-founder and president of the FIRST International Film Festival, an independent film festival in China.”

Tussle and revenge with local criminals lead them to burn a ship and that bond that held them together deteriorates on that same night.

Jealousies begin to weigh and when Dongdong mysteriously disappears their friendship takes such a turn that it will not be able to return.

Xiaolong, unlike the others, after years fails to give himself peace and continues to look for clues to the disappearance of the young girl.

Critic review

The Enigma of Arrival is a drama thriller where a series of wrong decisions inexorably write a path of life for the four main protagonists. Among them, the one with a predetermined destiny turns out to be Xiaolong, who has no possibility of choice, since he is faced with facts already happened, of which he is for a long time unaware.

At some point in the plot, the viewer, as well as Xiaolong, finally get to know what really happened to Dongdong, but it turns out that this is not the fundamental point of the story.

The plot is interwoven on individual and subjective perspectives, between past and present. The extremely personal points of view are the cause of the lack of communication between the four friends.

The characters have different perspectives and perceptions of what happened. The search for truth seems complex because each of them sees their relationship with Dongdong, and her disappearance in a unique way. Exploring the subjective ways in which everyone perceives reality, everyone has their own version of events.

“Yang Hongyu, the editor, also worked with Wang Xiaoshuai, Vivian Qu, Zhang Yang, John Woo”


If everyone has their own truth, no reality is worth more than the others for others. The sequences of memories exploding like a broken prism offer the viewer the ambivalence and nature of points of view, of what surrounds the four friends.

The fragments formed by the various pieces of memory of each are dramatic elements in the plot since none of them taken individually is complete to lead to an understanding of what happened.

The disappearance of the young woman is the cause and the breaking point of their “friendship”.

The errors of adolescence bring consequences for their whole life. They are therefore marked and changed forever because the secrets destroy.

“Everyone filters down memory to his own benefit” San Pi

This tortuous psychological labyrinth shows how the misunderstandings move them away.

Their friendship and their lives are ruined by lies, prejudices, and a good pinch of clueless naivety and immaturity.

While others choose to forget to move forward, Xiaolong, obsessed and upset, has not forgotten and stubbornly continues for years to look for Dongdong, to know what really happened.

The shots of the first meeting of the four friends with the two girls in the little shop where cassettes, CDs and VCD are sold, infuses the spectator who knows the China of these time, or the fans of Chinese cinema of that decade, a sense of deep melancholy and nostalgia.

“Four friends, a girl, bad decisions, personal perspective, a disappearance: an enigma!”

Poster for the movie "The Enigma of Arrival"
© 2018 − All right reserved.

A dip in that period when young people, from the pre-digital and social era, hungry and thirsty for new experiences, used to put themselves in those shops looking for imported products – music and films – from Hong Kong, from all over Asia, but also from the West.

The sequence of scenes from the disco, where Xioalong and Fang Yuan compete for Dongdong’s attention, with the alternation of colored shots brings to mind the atmosphere of Wong Kar-wai.

The director is also explicitly mentioned, through the image of a poster of “Days of Being Wild“, when the group of friends goes to a small cinema waiting for special midnight porn. Cinematographic quotations still continue, with young friends reciting the lines of a Chow Yun-fat monologue during the screening of “A Better Tomorrow” by John Woo.

The film is set in a port city on the banks of the Yangtze River, but the themes of friendship, love, desire, revenge, hatred, envy, misunderstanding, guilt, and obsession are universal.

Everything that happens to the protagonists triggers emotions and feelings that everyone may have felt, at the time of the loss of innocence. This characteristic brings the viewer closer to the vicissitudes of the characters.

“Life is floating between fiction and reality like a prism which can create fiction and reality tinted by different colors” San Pi


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Interview with Song Wen, director and co-founder of FIRST Festival in China


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