Poet on a Business Trip ★★★½

One issue I've noticed in the way I watch movies is a certain propensity to look for patterns or theses too often: the first time I saw Poet on a Business Trip a few years ago, I recall being inexplicably disappointed that the poems didn't correlate thematically with what was going on in the narrative. This time around, I found it to be an immensely rewarding watch. The lead actor and filmmaker's interactions with the people they meet on the road show snippets of a host of people's lives, and though we only spend a few minutes at the most with each, we get some sense of their psyche and the trajectory of their lives (consider late, heart-breaking scene in which Shu hires a prostitute who tries to convince him to marry her and get her out of her current life). The poetry usually stands alone from the corresponding narrative scenes, but its wistful simplicity complements the soul-searching journey the characters embark on and the contemplative exchanges they have with those around them. The film is shot with a lo-fi graininess that was likely a necessity of budget and production values; rather than opt for the usual images of nature's beauty that many filmmakers would include in their travel documentaries, Ju Anqi chooses to focus on Shu, situating the poet in whatever environment he finds himself in, whether it be a field or a brothel. In this way, it gives the sense of being a rather lived-in film, with each location seeming to have its own story and trajectory that Shu and Ju find themselves lying tangential to for a moment.