This neo-noir drama fits both visually and thematically into modern Chinese cinema and tries to follow films like “Black Coal, Thin Ice” and “Wild Goose Lake” by Yi’nan Diao or perhaps “Touch of Sin” by Zhangke Jie, but it was significantly weaker. The whole story is quite drawn out and lifeless, although it had a lot of potential, and screenwriter and director Xiaofeng Li certainly had big ambitions. In “Back to the Wharf” he deals with the effect that one horrific act of violence had on the lives of many people. However, the act had the greatest impact on 33-year-old Song Hao, who returned to his hometown 15 years later. He is the son of a low-ranking official in a coastal fishing town who is the best student and should be guaranteed admission to college and a scholarship. But instead of Song, the school will give it all to his best friend Li Tang, the mayor’s son, at the last minute.
In a fit of rage and desperation, the moment he finds out, Song will head to a prominent city district in a heavy rainstorm to confront his friend. But instead of a friend’s house, he will break into a house across the street whose owner will attack him thinking he is a burglar. During the fight, Song will stab the man with a knife, not even knowing that his father is after him and will finish the guy off. Song will then run away to another city and start a new life. And that at the persuasion of his father, who will not tell him anything about what happened, but will leave him in the belief that he killed the man. Song will then settle down in distant Guagnzhou, and the story then travels 15 years ahead to 2007, when the now 33-year-old protagonist will return to his hometown for his mother’s funeral.
Upon returning home, Song will try to build a life from scratch, but the past will slowly begin to catch up with him, and a life of guilt and dark secrets will eventually prove to be just one of the problems for this man as we learn that what happened 15 years ago year saw just Li Tang. After switching back to crime-waters, “Back to the Wharf” will for some time oscillate between melodrama and social drama about morality and family honor that takes place in the middle of China’s economic boom at the turn of the century. Of course, in these 15 years that Song has been away, everything around him has changed, just as he, of course, has changed, but so have the people he once knew. In the meantime, Li Tang has become an unscrupulous investor who, thanks to Song’s father, now a high-ranking bureaucrat, obtains building permits for development and construction. And while it seems that Li and his father will be a kind of symbolism for the new China that is rapidly developing and building under completely new circumstances, Song seems to represent the old China that failed to adapt and seems to be stuck in the past.