Lost for Words: Film Review

Overly familiar plot elements and bland characters bog down this sluggishly paced romance drama.

An American ex-Marine and a Chinese ballerina overcome language barriers in this cross-cultural love story.

An American ex-Marine and a Chinese ballerina find love, if not much of anything else interesting, in Stanley J. Orzel’s romantic drama. While Lost for Words, the title of which burdens the film with an unfortunate comparison to the similarly cross-culturally themed Lost in Translation, serves as a picturesque travelogue of Hong Kong, its glacial pacing and blandly drawn central characters make it heavy going.

After a portentous opening in which we see Michael (Sean Faris) in prison for an unspecified crime, the action flashes back to several months earlier, when the former soldier arrived in the cosmopolitan city to do IT work for a corporation. He soon runs across -- literally, as they meet while jogging in a park -- Anna (Grace Huang), a dancer being groomed for a showcase solo in a new piece by a modern dance company. The two immediately seem perfect for each other, if only for their similar degree of gorgeousness. But they struggle with a language barrier, each knowing only a smattering of the other's native tongue. Mutually exploring the city's photogenic environs, their relationship deepens as they give each other language lessons.

Personal issues rise to the fore as well. Michael is still reeling from the Dear John video he received from his former girlfriend upon arriving in the city. And the chaste Anna is reluctant to take the relationship to a physical level, despite the entreaties of her freewheeling dancer friend Mei Mei (Joman Chiang).

From the officious dance company captain (Terence Yin) who harbors a not-so-secret yen for Anna to the Michael being haunted by his tour of duty in Afghanistan, the film traffics in overly familiar elements. The dramatic tension rises only towards the end, when Anna takes Michael home for the Chinese New Year. There he has a resonant encounter with her grandfather, who fought in the Korean War opposite Michael’s grandfather in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and gets into trouble with the authorities during a raid of the secret Catholic Church service the family attends.

Even taking the language gap into consideration, the lead characters rarely say anything particularly interesting, making our involvement in their burgeoning relationship tenuous at best. While the filmmaker’s reluctance to indulge in cheap melodrama is admirable, the resolutely old-fashioned Lost for Words lacks the necessary dramatic texture to compensate for its banal storyline.

Opened Oct. 18 (Studio Strada)
Cast: Sean Faris, Grace Huang, Will Yun Lee, Terence Yin, Joman Chiang
Director: Stanley J. Orzel
Screenwriters: Stanely J. Orzel, C. Joseph Bendy
Producer: Maria Lo Orzel
Executive producers: Richard J. Siemens, Sean Faris, Dino May

Director of photography: Jimmy Wong
Editor: Darren Richter
Production designer: Siu-Hong Cheung
Composer: Andre Matthias
Not rated, 107 min.