|Lost and Found
Tian ya hai jiao
Hong Kong, 1996
Review by Shelly Kraicer
This [December, 1996] has been a very encouraging month or so in North America for Hong Kong cinema. After serious summer-fall doldrums (even I was beginning to tire of the Triad boyz), we've had, on laser disc and movie screens:
And now, the finest of the lot to date, Lee Chi-ngai's Lost and Found (Tian ya hai jiao). I completely enjoyed watching this beautiful, sad, rich and deeply satisfying movie: it may turn out to be the finest of 1996.
(WARNING: the following may contain spoilers: skip it if this bothers you.)
Lost and Found is a revisiting, perhaps, of the Derek Yee hit C'est la Vie Mon Cherie (Xin bu liao qing, 1994). But quite a departure from that movie, too, without its sentimentality and melodrama. The basic premise is the same: a beautiful woman (Kelly Chan) has leukemia, but learns how to live and with whom to fall in love, (Takeshi Kaneshiro, or Michael Wong) before she dies. This sounds excessively sad, but L&F isn't. It has a graceful, lively, kind of witty tone that supports the story, about loss and death, without undue melancholy.
Some wonderful things in it: the screenplay, also by Lee Chi-ngai, is smart, precise, fresh, and has a "written", thoughtful feel to it, for a popular HK movie -- one could almost believe that it had been composed in its entirely, and then polished, ahead of time, before the actual shooting (not typical HK practice).
Fine, graceful cinematography, by transplanted Torontonian Bill Wong, who specializes in Hong Kong arthouse films. Here, he provides scenes of quiet, breathtaking beauty, where images of ordinary things or familiar places are transformed by lighting, framing or some other film maker's magic. There is an extended penultimate sequence shot somewhere on the Scottish coast, featuring a computer-enhanced Scottish coastline that could have come straight out of Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves (!!).
A striking score, featuring Leonard Cohen's "Dance me to the end of love", a beautiful Celtic folk tune, and a couple of Kelly Chan Wai-lum current Cantopop hits (believe me, they all work together, improbable as that might sound!).
And speaking of Kelly Chan: the cast is uniformly fine. This is only her second major role (she was HK's pop music sensation last year), and she proves quite capable of carrying a serious film. She has a striking screen presence, and knows how to create a character. Her narration (in a Wong Kar-wai derived style that everyone, even Tsui Hark, seems to have picked up recently) was particularly moving. And she somehow has the necessary gravity and grace to convey her character's depth, her growing self-awareness. All she needs to do is find on screen the freedom and daring that we can hear in her singing (I'd recommend her 2nd Cantonese album: Wind, Flower, Snow), and she could blossom into a major actress.
Takeshi Kaneshiro gives another sensational performance (as an eccentric yet thoughtful "Mr. Worm", head of a "lost and found" agency), extending the work he has done in Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. And Michael Wong manages effectively to impersonate a sweet, rather soft-spoken and gentle Scottish sailor whom Kelly falls for at the beginning of the film. Among the many fine secondary roles (a Lee Chi-ngai specialty), Cheung Tat-ming is a stand out as Takeshi Kaneshiro's disabled and philosophical assistant.
Another terminal illness film, with people and things expiring (Somebody Up There Likes Me, What a Wonderful World, C'est la Vie Mon Cherie): this phenomenon can't be completely disassociated from HK's fate in 1997. L&F already has what I would call, for lack of a better word, a nostalgic tone to it (although it's set in the present). We feel an impending loss, and somehow it's not just a person we are prepared to mourn, but a whole way of living or thinking, unavoidably slipping away, that somehow gets implicated in this movie.
I didn't feel depressed after watching L&F, but rather, elated. The film showed me that even if what we think of as life and home (time and place) seem to be slipping away, out of our grasp, there are nevertheless other places and times, graced with a magic that we can discover, where we can belong.
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all content © 1996-2002 Shelly Kraicer