Gong Li China's Cinematic Muse Banners (1)
In Person

China Institute Exclusive Premiere: Return to Dust

July 13, 2023
6:00 - 8:30 PM EDT

China Institute is proud to exclusively premiere the acclaimed realist drama – Return to Dust, on the evening of July 13, 2023.

Directed by Li Ruijun, the film had its world premiere at Berlinale 2022, subsequently reaching an impressive 100 million Yuan (US $14 million) box office sales as of September, 2022, on a low production budget of 2 million Yuan (US $275,000).

However, shortly after its release in China in July, 2022, and despite the high praise it has received, the film was removed from cinemas and streaming platforms in China.


The film is due to release in the U.S. in select cities on July 21, 2023.


In the small, rural village in Gaotai, two lonely, middle-aged people—Cao, a timid woman suffering from chronic illness and a disability, and Ma, an unassuming farmer with little to his name—are pushed into an arranged marriage by their respective families. Cast aside as burdens, Cao and Ma’s relationship is tepid at first but warms as the two spend their days fixing up an abandoned house on their small patch of land. Invigorated by a shared purpose and the all-consuming nature of farm work, the couple’s bond grows. However, in the dwindling rural communities of the Gansu province surrounding them, local farmers are being incentivized by local government to demolish their homes and uproot toward the cities. With their livelihood disappearing, the couple attempt to build a new life together with continued patience and determination toward their home and one another.

“An elegiac story, a humanistic metaphor for a vanishing world seen through the prism of a vulnerable couple cruelly written off.” – Hollywood Reporter

“Art-house title “Return to Dust” was a surprise weekend winner, topping the mainland China box office in its ninth weekend of release.” – Variety

“Seemingly banned merely for spotlighting the hard lives of the rural poor, the sleeper hit appears a snapshot of an airless political climate — and a symbol of the vulnerability of art.” – Financial Times

“Li Ruijun’s golden-hued film is a heartbreaking tale of love and resilience in the face of societal indifference and change.” – The Guardian

This program is made possible through the support of the Chinese International Education Foundation, and generous supporters of China Institute.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors