'Lost and Love' ('Shi Gu'): Film Review
Hong Kong A-lister Andy Lau and rising Chinese star Jing Boran hit the road to look for their offspring in Peng Sanyuan's child-abduction drama
The second human-trafficking drama to come out of China in just under six months, Lost and Love has been marketed primarily as a breakthrough for its novelist-turned-filmmaker Peng Sanyuan and its top-billing star Andy Lau. While their efforts - Peng with her directorial debut, and Lau in perhaps his most grungy, grassroots role ever - are admirable, the film's truly winning elements are Mark Lee Ping-bin's breathtaking cinematography capturing mainland Chinese landscapes and rising star Jing Boran's nuanced performance as a youngster searching for his biological parents.
More downbeat than Peter Chan's out-of-competition Venice title Dearest, Lost and Love - which opens day-and-date on Mar. 20 in the US - opts for a different approach in tackling the much-reported but hard-to-tackle issue of child-trafficking in China. While the main character remains a grieving parent, attention is shifted here to the confused young victims. This plays to Peng's strength as a trained educational psychologist: through Jing's character, the small-town auto-mechanic Zeng Shuai, the writer-director manages to outline both the bureaucratic problems faced by illegally raised children (his lack of a proper identity barring him from schooling, work and even train travel) and also how all this yields a personality fraught with angst and arrogance.
While Jing excels at playing Zeng's internalized tribulations, the film's supposed star doesn't fare as well. Playing Lei, a rough-hewn, rural fruit-grower who has spent 15 years searching for his snatched toddler, Lau glows when he's glowering in solitude. But as soon as he comes into contact with people, Lau's steely veneer slips. As Lei hits the road with Zeng to look for the latter's blood relations, Lau's sentimental delivery and overly deliberate paternal demeanor appear at odds with Jing's comparatively natural turn.
Perhaps hoping to expand the film beyond its intimate scale as a surrogate-father-and-son drama, Peng introduces a parallel plot involving a disheveled woman (Ni Jingyang) searching for her vanished child in a traffic intersection, and the trafficker (Sandra Ng) trying to sell the kid to interested families across the country. Erratically woven into the main storyline, Ni's one-note hysteria and comedian Ng's twitchy, voice-dubbed turn are just distractions, adding little to the film other than the well-known fact that Chinese families still prefer boys over girls.
It takes Mark Lee to save the day. As he follows Lei and Zeng in their cross-country journey - first along the coastline of Fujian, then through the rugged inland province of Sichuan - the Taiwanese DP (and long-standing Hou Hsiao-hsien collaborator) transforms landscapes into tableaux of either post-industrial gloom or ethereal natural beauty. These lush depictions of city and country fill in the dots between the film's dramatic plot points, gently driving the story forward while hinting at the social climate of the day.
Lee's eye for everyday Chinese life - whether in isolated rural villages or among aggrieved laborers on fish farms - compensates for the film's minimal commentary on the larger social trauma brought about by human traffickers, and the stigma faced by their victims.
Production companies: Huayi Brothers Media, Beijing Young & Saint Films, Focus Films with Chongqing Film Group, Navigation Era, Good Friends Entertainment, Huayi Brothers International
Cast: Andy Lau, Jing Boran, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Sandra Ng
Director: Peng Sanyuan
Screenwriter: Peng Sanyuan
Producers: Chan Pui-wah, Zhang Dajun
Executive producer: Wang Zhonglei, Peng Sanyuan
Director of photography: Mark Lee Ping-bin
Production designer: Lu Dong
Costume designer: Li Shanwei
Editor: Angie Lam
Music: Zbigniew Preisner
US distributor: China Lion
International Sales: IM Global
No rating; 108 minutes