Park Shanghai -- Film Review

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SHANGHAI -- The spirit of "The Big Chill" lives on in "Park Shanghai," which uses a college reunion in a karaoke bar as an occasion for Chinese urbanites to take stock of their lives. First-time feature filmmaker Huang Kai Kevin neither has the budget to deliver a flawless technical package nor the experience to hit all the right dramatic notes. Nevertheless, this is a quietly involving film that evokes a bittersweet mood in a highly compressed time and space.

Offering a born-and-bred local's glimpse of Shanghai that is not just full of chic and shiny surfaces, the film's contemporary resonance earned it several awards across China. Except for an invitation to last year's Moscow Film Festival, it has somehow slipped through the festival net. Smaller festivals should still have room for it.

It's Zhengdong (Wei Yun)'s last day in Shanghai before his three-year job transfer to the southern city of Shenzhen, where a grueling daily commute to Hong Kong awaits him. He attends an alumni party held in a karaoke bar.

Life transitions and job frustrations, peer pressure and male bonding, self-denials and confessions, romantic yearnings and regret -- all are touched upon in half a day, inside one building, as Zhengdong weaves in and out of two different parties.

During a visit to the rooftop with Taiwan-American acquaintance Nick (William Fong), their impromptu conversation with a waiter-drifter evolves into reflections upon the discrepancy between college-boy ideals and workaday reality.

This works well as a prelude for a later, more intimate scene on the same rooftop between Zhengdong and Ruirui (Zhu Yingying), his ex-girlfriend recently back from England with her new husband. The more they skirt around their true feelings in their empty chitchat, the more obvious it is that they have not gotten over each other.

As the camera closes in on the couple, then pans across windows of neighboring tenements where ordinary people go about their home lives, Huang deftly builds an emotional undertow that culminates in a touching, climactic moment in a taxi.

Fine compositions capture Shanghai's cityscape changing facets as day turns into night. The view is dominated by a Ferris wheel in a nearby park, symbolizing a spiritual oasis that is visible yet beyond immediate reach.

Huang's inexperience is exposed in the rather clumsy way the wordy script is transposed to the screen. The introductory scenes are too long and dwell on too many peripheral characters that fade out after the first act.

Dialogue sometimes sounds intellectualized and self-obsessed, especially when spoken by a green, young cast. Zhengdong's improvised poetry recitation is one of the most pretentious instances. Nevertheless, the film rings true when it depicts a certain phase in life when the wind has gone out of one's sails and everyone else seems to be doing better.

Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival
Production: HKK Film Co., Shanghai University School of Film & TV
Cast: Wei Yun, Zhu Yingying, William Fong, Dong Wenjun
Director-screenwriter-editor: Huang Kai Kevin
Executive producers: Qiang Xiang Johnson, Liu Ying Kate
Producers: Jin Guanjun, Shi Chuan, Ti Yunliang
Director of photography: Zheng Kai, Jin Chenyu
Music: Wu Ji
Costume designer: Zhou Wei
Sales: HKK Film Co., Dali Pictures Ltd.
No rating, 92 minutes