Everyday Hero (南哥, lit. Brother Nan) is a Chinese biopic based on the true life and story of Guo Jian Nan (郭建南), affectionately referred to as Brother Nan. He dedicated his life to helping the impoverished town of LiTan, which was recently destroyed by a devastating typhoon. Over the course of the two years, not only did he start rebuilding the town, he was also able to elevate LiTan out of poverty by increasing the income of its residents by 150%. The film is a literal narration of the events he encountered, and the projects he worked on in LiTan.
The film opens with Guo Jian Nan leaving his job in the big city for a development-oriented poverty reduction program. The destination is a small and typhoon stricken village LiTan located in south of China. Upon arriving, he witnessed extreme poverty and destruction from the typhoon. Despite the bad state of the village, the villagers hosted Brother Nan with warmth and laughter. After some consideration, Brother Nan dedicates the next two years to helping them rebuild their village.
Through spending time with the local villagers, Brother Nan devises a plan by observing a local near-deaf woman tending lovingly to her geese: farm more geese and export them to nearby cities. But just as their geese population expanded, and the destroyed roads leading to the city were about to begin reconstruction, Brother Nan got into a whirlwind of controversy when someone accused him of corruption. The problem is quickly resolved, as the agency sees how dedicated he is to his work and decides to go with Brother Nan’s plan for road-building.
This small success then begins a string of victories, as Brother Nan not only convinces LiTan village and its neighboring village to work together, but also organizes funds for education and welfare for the elderly. All this effort is not without sacrifice though, as he had to neglect his family back in the city, as well as his own health. Progress comes to a halt at Brother Nan’s tragic end — having had over exerted himself, he suffered a heart attack late at night, and passed away at his desk at 50 years old.
Everyday Hero wants to paint Guo Jian Nan as a regular man with a big heart, but instead mystifies him, presenting him as a character who is the perfect problem solver. Characters in the film never really present conflicts to Brother Nan — and when they do, the characters seem unwilling to persist and quickly resolve their problems. For example, the local deaf woman went into an anxious frenzy, mistaking local road building construction as the villagers trying to take away her geese from her. She only stops shouting once Brother Nan went up and talked to her — and the matter was resolved and never mentioned again.
Furthermore, characters seem to be too eager to shower Brother Nan with praise and dignity. The villagers are constantly praising Brother Nan on how selfless it was for him to come from the city to their poor village. Similarly, the city-dwellers comment on the ambition and forgiving nature of Brother Nan. Praises like these are everywhere in the film.
The film also embellishes poverty — while LiTan is a small village in extreme poverty, the villagers are resilient to hardships and continue to be simple and cheerful. Dropping in scenes where they are impressed by newfound material wealth, celebrating fresh new clothes with excessive laughter, feels a bit forced.
It is worth noting that the film doesn’t dwell on personal problems — unlike in Western cinema, where focus is given to characters’ internal drama. Everyday Hero instead focuses externally between interactions of other characters and Brother Nan. As a result, the meaning and interpretation of sacrifice is strikingly different from that of conventional Western cinema. In Western cinema, sacrifice comes from the protagonist’s inability to reconcile with his past (ex: Peter Parker let the robbers go, who shot uncle Ben), present (he sacrifices time to spend with his lover Gwen Stacy), or future (Gwen Stacy dies). We see the protagonist struggle through events: perhaps he flat out ignores the new father figure, maybe he gets more violent while facing enemies — but by his actions we see his inner struggle.
Everyday Hero attempts to show the sacrifices Brother Nan experienced by devoting his life to LiTan village. He misses his daughter’s school event, his wife laments about lonely nights, and his friends comment on his absence in the city. But instead of showing his struggle through his actions, we get an array of actions from the characters he interacts with: the wife and daughter calling him and comforting him during difficult nights, or his friends commenting on how they understand the work Brother Nan is undertaking. However, by the action of other characters, his inner struggles are minimized. In the end his ultimate sacrifice — dying of exhaustion — doesn’t reach its potential for tragedy.
Overall Everyday Hero wants to paint Guo Jian Nan as your every day hero who is selfless and someone to look up to, but ultimately tells a tale that is conflict-less and at times, stale.
Everyday Hero (Chinese: 南哥) — China. Directed by Zheng Hua. First released in October 2017. Running time 1h 31min. Starring Sun Hong Tao, Ru Ping, and Ai Liya. It is screening on selective VOD.