At the young age of 17, Xiaodong left Jincheng to study fine arts in Beijing. Prior to his departure, he painted his family, friends and fellow townspeople to use as his portfolio submission for school. It is these very people that have resonated with him throughout his career and have been his primary influence in his art.
Yao Hung-I's Hometown Boy follows Xiaodong as he travels back to his hometown to visit his friends and paint them once again, more than 30 years after setting off for the big city and a lucrative career. Far more than a standard documentary, the film is an exploration of friends and nostalgia for a man that veered off in a very different direction than those he grew up with.
We see as Xiaodong visits with his friends, hearing stories from days gone by. While each of his friends is posed for him to paint, Xiaodong explains their connection and why he is posing them in such a specific manner, communicating their spirit and their story on his canvas.
Hung-I's cinematography shines, capturing the nuance of Xiaodong's artistic vision while at the same time, showcasing the people and way of life in Jincheng. Some of the most captivating scenes revolve around watching Xiaodong paint and interact with his subjects; however, the film occasionally feels bogged down when it shifts to the group of friends conversing and participating in activities.
Hometown Boy affords a fascinating look at a talented artist and his work while also exploring how one man's life can take a completely different trajectory than his childhood friends.
Hometown Boy screens on Friday, November 9th at 9:00pm at AGO Jackman Hall. (3H Films)