Plot: In the Mongolian grasslands, young Bilike lives with his parents, older sister, and grandmother. He chills with his peeps, racing his horse against his friend's moped and occasionally playing some spirited rounds of grab-ass. One day, he finds a ping pong ball floating down the river. Only he doesn't know what a ping pong is, so the object fascinates him. He and his friend ask around. Is it a pearl, some sort of egg, something from heaven? When Dad, a guy obsessed with a carnival game that involves rolling tires to win prizes, finally gets the audio on the television working, Bilike finds out that his treasure is the national ball of China and decides it needs to be returned.
This is a charming little movie, kind of a cross between The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Gods Must Be Crazy. It's beautifully shot. The Mongolian steppe is almost as important as the characters or maybe even more important than the characters, and it's filmed in a way to make this family seem completely alienated from industrialized society. There are some great shots in this. Maybe it's just my current state of mind and my desire to be as far away from people as possible, but I would love to live in Middle-of-Nowhere, Mongolia with these folks. And I liked the story of how a simple object like this can get a child's imagination going. The pace is very slow, but instead of being dull, the space you're given helps you absorb the experiences of these children. The focus stays with the children, and it gives the story an innocence that I found refreshing. I'm not sure if any of the cast is a professional actor, but the only times things didn't seem authentic, almost documentary-authentic, were a few scenes where the children interacted with each other. The ending of this coming-of-age (sort of) story is a poignant one, the only movie I can think of that ends with a sound effect. I only grabbed this movie because I hadn't seen a Chinese movie in 2011, and I'm glad I picked this one.