Chinese words have a different meaning according to the way they are written, although they may sound the same. “Er Dong” is a Chinese independent movie that uses this unique feature of the language. The title can mean either ‘Winter Child’ or ‘Second Winter’ depending on the character combination. Through the growing up of one boy to a man, this movie shows the tough life in China as unregistered.
Er Dong is a rebellious teenage boy. He lives in a small village in the Northern Chinese province with his mother. He enjoys riding his motorbike and sometimes he gets involved in brawls, with his shotgun. Unlike Er Dong, his mother is a devout Christian. She sends Er Dong to the Christian school as she has been frustrated with the continuous misbehaviour of her son. Disappointing his mother’s wish, Er-dong remains unchanged. He is even expelled from the school because of his misbehaviours. Er Dong asks ChangE, one of his schoolmates, to run away from town, and she follows him.
The young couple arrives in the coal mine town and Er Dong starts working at the coal mine. It seems like there is no future for both of them, as they did not finish proper education and they do not have work permission. Er Dong only gets 400- 500 yuan and ChangE even less; she only earns 200 yuan per month. Er Dong sells out his motorbike and tries to manage his life by himself but life is not really easy going.
They go back to their home and officially marry with the financial support of their parents. He tries to do something such as selling the trees from the forest nearby, but he is caught by civil servants for violating the regulation and is fined 500 yuan. In addition, he follows his friends to a gang fight against another group, where he is the only one to get caught by the police.
His life is unchanged even he becomes a father. ChangE gives a birth to a baby girl but Er Dong’s behaviour is still immature. It is revealed in the last phase of the movie, the reason why Er Dong is rebellious. As he learns the secret of his birth, he leaves the family house again, in the middle of winter, and he goes to find his new life.
At the beginning of the movie, the opening sequence mentions ‘birth registration’. It is intentionally inserted to deliver the main subject of the movie. It is hard to understand why this scene is included as the opening until the last part of the movie where we learn the secret of Er Dong. Chinese government strictly regulates the birth rate and they only permit birth registration according to parents’ hometown. The initial cause of Er Dong being rebellious is the birth registration which affects his entire life afterwards. He returns to town as he cannot afford to have a valid registration and even neighbour asks him to put up his daughter for adoption as it is not easy to have a birth registration in his condition.
In other words, Er Dong’s life is “cursed” from the beginning. Er Dong is not aware of the reason clearly; so is the audience. The resigned voice of Li Bai Jun, who stars as Er Dong, shows that there is no breakthrough in his life as long as he lives in the town. The audience can feel there is some lying problem in this town but it is not directly mentioned until the final stage. In addition, the main actor Li retains a lethargic and indifferent attitude all around, which makes the audience curious about ‘what is the matter with this boy’.
Director Yang Jin uses the government system for the plot of his movie to show how it twirls one’s life from birth to the end. Using black and white scenes in between the narrative, after the second part of the movie, he highlights the painful life of invisible beings in society. In one of those scenes, a man kills himself with a shotgun after the whole journey.
Government control is effective in some ways but it actually strips some people of having a “regular” life. It is reported that the word ‘Heihaizi’, (literally means Black Children) refers to people unregistered in the national system. For those people, it is always winter, just like Er Dong.