The story behind Xiang Ji’s feature film debut – involving lies to Chinese governmental censors, an eighteen-day shoot, and time in the editing suite days after giving birth – is almost as fascinating as the barely-fictionalised tale she spins. She scarcely disguises her own life in this multi-generational, nonlinear drama, which follows Huang Xiaoyu (Nan Ji) when she returns – pregnant and with her New York husband in tow – to her parent’s home in Beijing. Supported by Xiang’s patient, unobtrusive framing, Xioayu becomes the empathetic eyes and ears of A Dog Barking at the Moon, taking the audience along as she reconnects with the fractured family she left behind.

The central conflict is rooted in her family’s past: her mother Li Jiumei (Naren Hua) and father Huang Tao (Wu Renyuan) have been living in an acrimonious marriage since the discovery of Tao’s homosexuality. Around the time of the family reunion, Jiumei falls into a Buddhist cult to find meaning, escape, and unwitting exploitation, leading to the central mother-daughter conflict. As Nan more often takes the role of the observer, if an active one, Naren carries the film’s spectrum of emotions – from the comic and absurd to the soul-shatteringly tragic.

Xiang creates a reflective atmosphere around her personal narrative. She balances the family’s every actions and conversations with referential, metatheatrical lens – re-creating family conflicts on stage and evoking the strange, fractured reality found in Joan Miró’s titular painting. This framing, combined with unhurried pacing, poignantly highlights the gulfs and gaps as each player searches for a meaningful role in family and life.

The characters’ closure and contentment are questionable at the film’s conclusion, but there is a sense that someday, everything might be okay. A masterclass of understatement, A Dog Barking at the Moon grants its messy family boundless sympathy, grace, and hope.



CAST: Nan Ji, Naren Hua, Zhang Xinyue, Wu Renyuan, Thomas Fiquet


WRITER: Xiang Zi

SYNOPSIS: A young couple move from New York back into the wife’s parents’ Beijing home, where the fallout of past conflicts are still being felt.