Rest on Your Shoulder: Film Review

A romance with fairytale elements and a simplified ecological message suitable for children.

Although some adults may find the story and its fantasy elements hopelessly naïve in Hong Kong writer-director Jacob Cheung’s most mainstream film, young kids will be swept away by the cascade of CG animation merged with splendid natural scenery.

SHANGHAI -- A candy-colored, marshmallow-sweet fairytale about true love, horticulture and immunology, Rest on Your Shoulder tells of a botanical scientist who faithfully pines for his missing fiancé, unaware that she is by his side in a different form. Its loudly spelled out ecological lesson is tailor-made for family viewing and is Hong Kong writer-director Jacob Cheung’s (The Ticket, A Battle of Wits) most guileless and mainstream film.

Although some adults may find the story and its fantasy elements hopelessly naïve, young kids will be swept away by the cascade of CG animation merged with splendid natural scenery. In addition to a routine run at cinema circuits in Chinese-speaking territories, this could be considered for festival sidebars aimed at family viewing.

In an unspecified time when epidemics run rampant, botanist Yan Guo (Aloys Chen) and his fiancée-assistant Baobao (Zhang Yiyan) move to Moon Island, a nature reserve, to research the curing properties of rare plants. As is customary, they pray to the magical Eros Tree to cement their love, unaware that they have to undergo a severe trial, in which Baobao must remain unseen to Yan for three years in exchange for his life.

Baobao transforms into a butterfly, and like the Little Mermaid, she watches two other women – horticulturalist Bailan (Kueh Lun-Mei) and journalist Yang Lin (Gigi Leung) -- court her lonely boyfriend, but cannot speak out her feelings. Cheung does not exploit the plot potential to create a melodramatic love quadrangle. Instead, he opts for a more down-to-earth, feel-good emotional arc by describing how Yan’s platonic friendship with the two women motivates a breakthrough in his research.

The subplot about Baobao’s adventures in the insect and plant world provides animated slapstick to keep a young audience’s attention, as well as showcase the lush natural landscapes shot on location in Hokkaido and Guangxi, and the idyllic replica Canadian houses shot in Yokohama. The generous use of CGI effects don’t always blend in completely with the live action or outdoor locations. While smaller scale animation, such as flora and fauna, look fairly life-like, larger scale elements such as waterfalls, tainted skies and fantasy effects look quite artificial.

The music by Joe Hisaishi, who composed most of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated features, tends towards the zappy, but it helps to brighten the rhythm during some dull lapses when the film is droning on drily about conservation. It also helps bridge the gap in tone between the adult love story and the childish insect shenanigans. The four main cast members make do with stock expressions and responses for their undemanding roles.

Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival
Production companies: Straw Family Inc., Straw Workshop
Cast: Aloys Chen, Kueh Lun-Mei, Gigi Leung, Jiang Yiyan
Director -producer: Jacob Cheung
Screenwriter: Polly Yeung, Jacob Cheung
Executive producer: Wang Jianxin
Director of photography: Ardy Lam
Production designer: Hiroki Kaneko
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Costume designer: Vivian Lam
Editor: Yang Qingyi
Sales: Straw Family Inc.
No rating, 120 minutes

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