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Longing for the Rain
Yang Lina 杨荔钠
Longing for the Rain

Ostensibly, all is well. Fang Lei is a loving mother and wife, makes excellent dumplings, and is primary carer for her charmingly demented mother-in-law. But when her computer game-obsessed husband and beloved child have left for work and school, an eerie quiet comes over the high-rise Beijing apartment. Left to her own devices she begins to observe herself as if in a dream. So, when a ghostly figure turns up in her dreams-cum-daydreams, first violently and then in a full-on seduction we ask who is looking at whom? Who is the subject of the dream? Are we looking at her looking at twenty-first century life in Beijing, or at the spectral life of her own body? Are these subjects and objects one and the same thing? The sensuous touch of the stranger’s body turns the dark nightmare of the initial intrusion into pleasure as the attacks become erotic rather than solely violent -- awakening new passions within her body. As Fang Lei begins to give in to the seductions of the spectral lover, he emerges slowly in fragmented close-up shots, amontage of extreme close-ups of his nipples, long hair and fleshy drooping bottom lip combine to create a shadowy, quasi feminine, figure who is at first clad all in black.

As Fang Lei’s obsession with the stranger intensifies, her dislocation from her family and the world around results in both her behaviour and state of mind transgressing all boundaries of normalcy. Longing for the Rain invites us to enter into her spiritual crisis and follow her itineraries through the cityscape and her own inner landscape in search of what is, ultimately, an uncertain healing process.

Dr. Vivienne LO (University College London) and Nashuyuan WANG (University College London)


As the camera pans in on the protagonist, Fang Lei, masturbating on her sofa to a pornographic DVD, we simultaneously look out over the emptiness of Beijing. She is ‘longing for rain’ – for the love, sex and passion of the euphemistic Chinese title of the film Chunmeng 春夢 ‘lit. spring dream’. We soon discover her apparently amiable husband hiding under the sheets with his games console, too frenetically engaged with the digital world to notice his wife’s growing alienation. The film subsequently charts the breakdown of the couple’s relationship and the husband’s abduction of their daughter as Fang Lei loses her way in a world where she cannot differentiate the phantasms of day and night.

As Fang Lei’s world falls apart and her grasp on reality gets ever more fragile, we also discover the spiritual geography of her sensual body as a reflection of the plural medical landscape of Beijing, and by implication that of the psycho-spiritual condition of urban middle-class women themselves. As a narrative of, and in, the capital city of China, it is also a feminist critique of the state of things.

One sequence that emerges throughout the film links all the moments of pleasure when women delight in each other’s company and escape pre-destined female roles. Whether bathing and feeding children, playing with sex toys or sucking lollipops, in shopping malls, in prayer or ecstatic dancing, in supernatural communication, the care-connection between key women in the film is expressed through physical objects and practices -- the source of the most joyful and intimate scenes. It also takes us to the heart of Beijing, creating female inter-generational spaces between the city’s old and new architectures. In the homely, human comfort of Granny’s traditional compound, far away from the madding streets of Beijing, they share a shower because granny smells bad. Despite the fact that Granny doesn’t even recognise her daughter-in-law, the soft intimacy that is created as Fang Lei gets naked to encourage her to wash, and playfully tweaks Granny’s nipples, turns tragic mental decline into gentle humour. Granny’s growing dementia parallels Fang Lei’s growing madness, and together they transcend social convention through a kind of mad-to-mad communing.

There are many points of Medical Humanities interest in this film about the embodiment of spiritual confusion in contemporary China. Merleau-Ponty described the body as a symbolic object, not something that ultimately belongs to us as we might assume, but as representative of our relationship to the totality of what surrounds us. Our bodies are not merely symbolic metaphors; they are constructed through ever-emerging processes where the lived and connected body itself participates actively in its own formation. Most obviously the film communicates these processes as it visualises a culturally specific illness narrative and a quest for healing – a quest which takes Fang Lei through the plural medical landscape of Beijing, and further afield to local healers and Buddhist temples. Illness narratives presented as ways of journeying towards health and well-being are nothing new, but Yang Lina’s filmic tale acknowledges that people do not always get better.

Dr. Vivienne LO (University College London) and Nashuyuan WANG (University College London)


Through intersecting Fang Lei’s fragmented body, her psychopathology, and her disturbing fantasies, with both the plural urban and religious landscapes of Beijing, Yang Lina animates a visual culture that is unique to China and China’s medico-spiritual traditions.

The productive space that Yang Lina creates between Fang Lei’s body and the city of Beijing processes together historical and contemporary space: it borrows narrative journeys from tales of the supernatural that date to the Tang period, medieval religious pilgrimage, and geo-emotive body landscaping traditions from much before that and shows how they pervade the present. Fang Lei constantly shapes her own environment to these traditions, and journeys through them as a riposte to the dissatisfying urban domestic landscape that she finds herself in. In contrast to historic itineraries, however, the space that Yang Lina articulates is resolutely female, and therefore serves to comment on the disconnect between China’s supersonic economic and political rise onto the global stage and those lost in the spiritual maze of its urban underbelly.

Dr. Vivienne LO (University College London) and Nashuyuan WANG (University College London)


In Longing for Rain the questions raised concern gender roles, and social and spiritual displacement in the new middle class urban environments of China.

  • Is Longing for Rain a feminist film?
  • How does the film depict female sexuality?
  • What are the boundaries of spiritual and emotional disquiet and psychological pathology?
  • Are they different in China?
  • Is there a place for spiritual healers in China?
  • What is Fang Lei actually suffering from?
  • Why does Fang Lei never consult a psychiatrist?