The only constant is change. There’s truth to that no matter where you live, and in keeping with the times, that change sometimes happens way too fast. If there’s an area in Vancouver that seems like a step backwards in time, it’s Chinatown, but that is quickly changing. Although the people in the area are less than thrilled about the idea, many of them are also old timers who are powerless to do much about amongst some of the most expensive real estate in Canada. But they persevere, and they keep working day to day as if the world isn’t changing around them. Everything Will Be is their story.
Director Julia Kwan, who made the Sundance Jury Award-winning Eve and the Fire Horse, approaches the subject in a “day in the life” style, where her camera captures the action of these typical days on the streets of Chinatown, and does it with limited commentary and without doing extensive interviews with cultural commentators or people invested in the area. It works well, too, as there’s more than enough action in Chinatown without the exposition, and the activity captured on film says more than enough about current life in the area and outside pressures to modernize.
Kwan’s Chinatown is a fascinating intersection of the good, the bad and the indifferent. A young artist opens a studio in an old storefront believing that there’s still a thriving life in Chinatown. A young woman who’s inherited her father’s tea business is concerned about the future, but is determined to carry on in his honor. The long term residents are more laid back about the future prospects, thinking that whatever happens, happens, and there’s not much they can do about. Still, they hope that Chinatown will remain how it is, and they will have a place in it, but the mood is clear that this will be less and less likely.
This creates a dreamlike quality for the film as we interact with the various residents, old and new, who believe in Chinatown and are holding on to an ideal, a time when Chinatown was central to commerce and culture. Frequently, the camera passes by a towering development with the words “Everything is Going To Be Alright” in bright, white neon letters. Sure, that sounds comforting, but many of Chinatown’s residents are taking it as kind of a middle finger. For whom will everything be alright? The developer, or the local grocer who closes for the holidays and never opens again?
Kwan cleverly builds up and subverts expectations. The film opens with all the signs of urban decay in action, homelessness, boarded up shops, and the like, but as we follow around a security guard we start to see the signs of both old and new life. A bakery moves into swanky new digs, a new art gallery draws attention by crowd-sourcing an exhibition of local photography, the ancient Chinese tradition of putting birds outside a shop is both honored and subverted with pair of caged rubber duckies, and a new bar promotes the the mixing of Chinese herbal healthcare with its beverages.
The idea of one culture building on top of the other is reinforced by frequent visits to an Italian deli. Its 80-year-old proprietor inherited the business from his father, who opened up the shop when Chinatown was a predominantly Italian area. This shop is probably the last outpost of those Italy-centric days, but its a subtle sign that the more things change, there are always a few things that remain exactly the same. Is Kwan’s interest in this one deli owner her way of saying “Everything is Going To Be Alright?”
But if the residents of Chinatown are so worried about the fate of their neighborhood, why aren’t they more actively trying to save it? Bob Rennie, the man helping to re-develop Chinatown and the author of the neon message, asks that question to one of the other building owners who responds simply with, “We don’t own Chinatown.” Although Kwan gives every inch of Chinatown her love with the camera, it does kind of feel like there’s an acceptance that Chinatown will not be its same self anymore. So in a way, Everything Will Be is a kind of time capsule and remembrance so that if the Rennies of the world succeed, there will be a record of the Chinatown that was.
At the end of the film, the young artist that was trying to make a go of it in his Chinatown studio eventually closes up shop, but instead of feeling defeated he just takes that energy and puts into a mobile version. All the wood planks that he put up on his studio wall for people to write messages on are used to build a rickshaw, which becomes his new mobile studio, housing his supplies and advertising his business. With this, it’s clear that the ultimate message of Everything Will Be, I think, is that something great can endure as something different, even if you can’t help it.