I finally sat down to read Seekers of the Aweto Vol 1: The Hunt is On by Nie Jun (translated from the Chinese by Edward Gauvin). Xinyue, his brother Qiliu and their mother travel the land near the Silk Road, looking for aweto, a plant-like treasure that only sprouts from the top of majestic earth deities. (My father tells me that this is a real thing—not the earth deities, but the plant: it’s called a fungus that grows out of a dead caterpillar called “cordyceps sinensis”, it grows in the Himalayas and it is highly sought after because of its medicinal properties.) The trio make a living from selling the aweto and are able to do what they do because of Xinyue’s drum, which commands the insects, and Qiliu’s flying prowess—along with his obsession with finding the celestial aweto, which is supposed to have the power to bestow eternal life.
The trio come across a village built around an earth deity and seek to rob them of their aweto, even though the inhabitants put up quite a fight. But in the tussle, Xinyue ends up becoming a carer for the deity’s little offspring, with warriors from the village in hot pursuit.
Nie Jun’s art is GORGEOUS (particularly the colours and his use of colour), the action scenes are dynamic and wonderful, and my goodness, will you just look at the crowd scenes! Volume 1 ends on quite a cliffhanger, and I’ve read that there are supposed to be four in total. With the first volume just released, however, I suspect it will be a while before we get the others!
Emilia Clarke, the mother of dragons herself, plays a down-on-her luck London girl named Kate Andrich. It is Christmas in 2017 and Brexit is dividing the nation. Kate works full-time at a year-round Christmas shop under sharp-eyed dragon lady Michelle Yeoh. She has Fleabag-level dysfunctional family issues—particularly with her mother (Emma Thompson, who also wrote the screenplay), who still behaves as if the war they fled in Yugoslavia has followed them to England. She’s such a hot mess with all the terrible eating and the drinking and the hooking up with random strangers, she just can’t get her life together, and she can’t land an audition even though singing professionally is the thing she most wants to do. By chance one day, she meets a way-too-understanding manic pixie dream boy named Tom Webster (Henry Golding) and begins to form an attachment to him, and that’s kind of where the downward arc of her character starts to swerve.
It is very important to say upfront that the marketing has let this film down: watching the trailer, you’d be forgiven for expecting a romcom dressed up in tinsel and George Michael tunes. It is NOT that (and a part of me wonders if unhelpful expectations led this film to score only 46 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s more of a journey of a young woman trying to turn her life around and deal with her baggage, and while Tom plays a role in that, the story isn’t about him or even them; it’s about her. Her growth comes about over scenes and days and weeks and things that feel a little repetitious and slow at times, but the overall effect is akin to a novel where small things are changing and a character is growing, just not all at once.
My movie buddy Fiona picked the twist well before it happened—perhaps because she was paying far more attention to the clues than I was (the film’s title is a big one), but also perhaps because she knows more George Michael than I do. (Also, I was still expecting a romcom. Nope!) I was still surprised by it, and while I’m still tossing up whether it was satisfying, there were things about the ending I liked and things that I kind of wished had been better. Overall, I liked where the movie left Kate and the audience. But I think I understand why its reviews have been bad.
Other things I liked: the leads were all engaging: Emilia Clarke made me feel for Kate; Emma Thompson was fantastic as her overbearing over-anxious mother; and if Henry Golding was a little too cardboard and a little too good to be true, well, there was sort of a reason for that. I agree that Michelle Yeoh was under-utilised, though her little character arc was weirdly charming and I liked the interactions between her and Kate. I also liked how many of the minor characters had something to do, and they milked whatever screen time they were given. And I liked that the movie was grounded in a particular time and place—with themes regarding immigration, homelessness and the general anxiety of the British people underscoring everything.
I don’t think this will be a film for everyone. If you’re expecting a Love Actually/Serendipity/The Holiday Christmas romcom, you’ll end up disappointed. If you meet the story on its own terms, I think you might enjoy it.