This year I have started to explore a more cultural take on my favorite genre by experiencing China’s take on science fiction. Cixin Liu wrote a phenomenal trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, which will be adapted by David Benioff and DB Weis for Netflix in 2023. RF Kuang’s The Poppy War is a scary exploration of the Poppy Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. And now I’m here to tell you about director Neysan Sobhani’s wondrous Guidance. Set in the late 21st century, ten years after the ‘Great War,’ the film, written by Sobhani, Anders R. Fransson, and Wang Pei Yu, explores the sloppy, dishonest interpersonal relationships of people and how technology can throw a monkey wrench into an otherwise good relationship.
Three months after a bomb scare at the lab Su Jie (Francisco Chen) works, Mai Xi Zuan (Harry Song) is taking his girlfriend, Han Miao (Jia Sun), on an extended weekend to the heritage resort/museum. During the bomb scare, Han Miao was stuck in Su Jie’s safe room for six hours. What we see transpire during those six hours is Su Jie’s attempts to seduce Han Miao. She has purposefully left Mai Xi Zuan in the dark about it, but the secret is slowly creating a rift between these two young people.
“Containing a built-in lie detector, the app prevents both of them from being less than fully honest.”
And then they take the pill for NIS, an AI interface Su Jie has been developing. Eventually, NIS will permit humans to have all manner of apps, but for the first few weeks, they start with an app Su Jie’s departed father was working on during the Great War. This app, Guidance, is intended to improve people and help them develop into more empathic, honest human beings. Or at least that’s the sales pitch. As we learn through a cross-cutting interview with Su Jie, it may have been initially intended as a weapon used to dig secrets out of captives.
Guidance explores all these topics through the weekend getaway of Mai Xi Zuan and Han Miao. Containing a built-in lie detector, the app prevents both of them from being less than fully honest. This scenario presents so many questions about the direction of Artificial Intelligence. Can a weapon be rehabilitated? How does complete honesty impact a relationship? Given the human impulse to subvert such candor and honesty, it should come as no surprise both main characters attempt to alter the app’s parameters.
While a slow and atmospheric exploration of Han Miao and Mai Xi Zuan’s relationship, Sobhani’s film does what great science fiction always does: deepen our understanding of each other through science and technology. Guidance is a stellar production, and I encourage you to seek it out if you wish to dip your proverbial toe into another culture’s sci-fi offerings. This is a fascinating extrapolation of China’s current endeavor to lead the world in Artificial Intelligence research. Equal parts relationship drama, science fiction, and mystery, the film leaves you stunned by its conclusion. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, truly great film, and I’m very interested to know what the filmmakers will do next.
"…a once-in-a-lifetime, truly great film..."