Starring Andy Lau. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.
The grammatically challenged English title of this lovely Chinese road movie may be hard to parse. But it is a tale of people trying to recover from losses that deprived them of love, and much more. The Chinese Shi Gu can be translated as The Way of the World, and that’s a better tip-off as to the downbeat, if lyrical, tone of this unusual and oddly satisfying picture.
Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, who usually plays sophisticated heroes in films like Blind Detective and House of Flying Daggers, goes humble as impoverished farmer Lei Zekuan, searching for the son kidnapped 17 years earlier. He has already spent innumerable seasons crossing China on his beat-up motorbike, festooned with banners depicting his abducted child and others. (The most recent leads to tedious sequences of an anguished mother flipping out at a busy intersection.)
His so-far fruitless journey has a heavy cost, and a brutal road accident on the way to Wuyi Mountain leads him to young Zeng Shuai, played by up-and-comer Jing Boran, who quietly steals the movie. Their initial scene together, a totally wordless sequence in which the man sews tattered flags while the boy pulls his broken bike apart, constitutes strikingly intimate foreshadowing.
Zeng is too old to be Lei’s missing boy (there’s some questionable math elsewhere), but something about the latter’s quixotic mission appeals to him. Indeed, it’s not long before the youngster reveals that he himself was stolen as a toddler—an amazing coincidence until you realize that roughly 300,000 children are abducted in China every year, as part of a complex human-trafficking system the movie understandably reduces to a few bad eggs.
Lost is a writing-directing debut for TV veteran Peng Sanyuan, and if she soft-pedals criticism of bureaucrats for lack of action, she makes it clear that networks of individuals in the Internet age have made a big difference in addressing the issue. The film is padded with prolonged fight-and-play sequences, but it surprises with a rare emphasis on Buddhist themes and there’s a steady supply of stunningly beautiful shots, sometimes of grungy and very far-flung places.
Poland’s Zbigniew Preisner contributes a lush score that’s probably too melodramatic for the subtlety of the story.