Guy Pearce stars in this drama about an Australian prison inmate and his Chinese foster child.
As instantly disposable as an unwanted postcard from a friend’s vacation, Pauline Chan’s hybrid drama squanders the talents of Guy Pearce in its tale of the unlikely relationship between a young Chinese orphan and an Australian prison inmate. Equal parts thriller and feel-good inspirational tale, 33 Postcards succeeds mainly in provoking the viewer’s sense of disbelief.
Sixteen-year-old Mei Mei (Zhu Lin) has been receiving missives and financial support for ten years from Dean Randall (Pearce), an Aussie who regales her with tales of his life as a park ranger and devoted family man. So when her orphanage choir travels to Sydney to participate in a singing competition, she eagerly takes advantage of the opportunity to sneak off and thank her generous adoptive father in person.
Unfortunately, she soon finds out that he’s actually a convict imprisoned on a manslaughter charge. Left behind by her escorts, the plucky teenager somehow manages to become embroiled in a car theft ring whose ringleaders include Randall’s brother (Rhys Muldoon). Desperate to save her from the criminals’ clutches, Randall makes the possibly self-destructive decision to get himself sprung by testifying against one of the prison’s more viciously violent inmates.
How does a long incarcerated prisoner have the disposable income to provide support for a foster child? Why would a gang of hardened criminals recruit a hopelessly naïve teenager? Why would the choir’s organizers simply abandon one of their charges? How is it that Mei Mei is immediately given legal permission to stay in Australia despite her young age? These are the among the myriad head-scratching questions that spring to mind while watching the tonally confused proceedings, which somehow manage to be dull despite the profusion of plot twists.
The normally reliable Pearce here delivers a recessive, twitchy performance less suggestive of inner conflict than constipation, while the engaging Lin is unable to make her character’s inconsistencies remotely credible.
True to its title, the film does at least provide picture-postcard views of its scenic locations ranging from the verdant mountains of rural China to Sydney’s many tourist-friendly attractions.
Opens May 17 (Gravitas Ventures)
Production: Portal Pictures, Zhedjiang Hengdian Film Production
Cast: Guy Pearce, Zhu Lin, Claudia Karvan, Elaine Jin, Rhys Muldoon, Lincoln Lewis, Terry Serio
Director: Pauline Chan
Screenwriters: Martin Edmond, Pauline Chan, Philip Dalkin
Producers: Zhijiang Liu, Penny Carl-Nelson, Pauline Chan, Lesley Stevens
Executive producers: Eddy Chan, Eddy Chan Ka Ho, Lee Soon Kie, Chua Chye Seng, John Sim, Yongan Xu
Director of photography: Toby Oliver
Editor: Jane Moran
Production designer: Thomas Chong
Costume designer: Xanthe Heubel
Composer: Antony Partos
Not rated, 97 min.