Film Reviews Mint Chinese Film Festival

Review: The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost

  • Release year: 2021
  • Director: Qinyuan Lei.
  • Producers: Qinyuan Lei and Julian Moser.
  • Screenplay by: Qinyuan Lei.
  • Cinematographer: Julian Moser.
  • Music by: Hainbach and Meng Qi.

Synopsis: a little girl spends most of her days at her parents’ workplace, where she plays with other children inventing all sorts of fantastic stories.

Shotgun Commentary: endearing tale with a seemingly unfinished message.

Fig. 1. Little girl bored out of her mind at her parents’ workplace.
Source: The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost (Qinyuan Lei, 2021).


The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost is a film about a little girl who has to stay at her parents’ workplace, but dreams about leaving her life and routine behind. The title is a reference to one of the games they play as much as it is a reference for how the narrator feels about coming back to her hometown after having left years ago.

The power of innocence

The use of children as main characters is innovative since stories about the desire to run away or leave the family nucleus are usually more attributed to teenagers. However, kids are more interesting in the sense that they tend to be their most honest selves at all times. This makes recording them in documentary conditions completely unpredictable and magical in a way, which serves the purpose of the filmmaker perfectly.

Fig. 2. Little girl playing at her parents’ workplace. Source:
The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost (Qinyuan Lei, 2021).

All of the children featured in the film are adorable, which enhances the empathy of the audience towards the story. Additionally, that situation of being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be just because your parents needed to do “adult stuff” is a universal experience. It could be the workplace, or a bank, or church, or even a doctor’s appointment. When you are a child, time flows slower in that kind of circumstances and everyone remembers the torture that was. The commonality of the situation builds an instant connection with the viewers, provoking their interest and engagement.

Feeble message

While the beginning is quite strong and enthralling, The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost loses attraction with every minute that goes by. There is a message about technological change and the development of the market of Huaqiangbei. However, the topic is not developed or even directly addressed, rendering it a mere comment that goes by almost unnoticed, especially for any viewer who is unfamiliar with this market.

Fig. 3. Little girl and her sister getting drinks from a vending machine.
Source: The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost (Qinyuan Lei, 2021).

The lightness of this commentary translates into the principal subject matter having most of the narrative weight. Regrettably, the desire to leave a place is not a strong enough theme to support the whole piece. Not because of the topic itself, but rather because of its lack of growth throughout the feature. The idea to depart from a place is a good starting point for a bigger narrative, but in this case, it goes no further than that, which turns the footage into a repetitive succession of events that brings no new relevant information to the audience.

Classic techniques

In addition to the static subject, the technique is quite average. There is barely any expression in the camera use, which makes the viewing monotonous. The edition is similar to that of a news broadcast, a format that works for a constant series of events told quickly, but not so much for a mono-themed documentary. This genre needs more technical experimentation to maintain the spectators’ attention better.

Fig. 4. Little girl and her sister making flower crowns. Source:
The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost (Qinyuan Lei, 2021).

All in all, the message that The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost wants to share is quite compelling and slightly melancholic. A beautiful combination that, while pleasantly presented, would have benefitted from a different execution.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • If you have kids, don’t put them through the same boring events you had to go through if you have the chance.
  • Be nice to your younger siblings, they may be useless when they are little, but they are still family.
  • There is only so long you can record a kid playing with the light ratio of a flashlight. Two minutes is already close to too much.
Fig. 5. Little girl bored at her parent’s workplace, again. Source:
The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost (Qinyuan Lei, 2021).

What’s your take? Have you watched The One Who Runs Away Is The Ghost? What do you think of the story? This film’s UK premiere took place in the 2024 Mint Chinese Film Festival in Keswick, so if you like its story you might want to keep your eyes peeled for their next edition!

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