Dir/scr: Wang Chao. Chi-Fr. 2006. 88mins
If Luxury Car,Wang Chao's old-fashioned Franco-Chinese melodramaabout a man looking for his son in the big city, turns out so much better thanits contents seem to promise, then it is mostly due to the gently restrainedtreatment it receives from its writer/director and a remarkable cast that neverputs a foot wrong.
Raising the kind of issuesthat have often concerned Chinese cinema in recent years, Wang's pictureexplores again the drastic changes in the social structure of the country thathave come about through swift modernisation.
Best known for Orphan Of Anyang, Wang may say little new here, but his quiet,subdued approach and keen observation of characters combine for a modest butconsistently impressive picture. Festivals will acquire it without hesitation (itplayed in Un Certain Regard at Cannes where it enjoyed a warm reception); specialiseddistributors are urged to view it at the earliest opportunity.
Just before he retires, Li Qi Ming (Wu You Cai), promiseshis ailing wife to find their absent son, who has vanished in the city of Wuhan, where Li Qi Ming lived asa student 40 years ago before exile to the countryside during the CulturalRevolution.
He is met at the station byhis daughter, Yanhong (TianYuan) who, he believes, has a decent job in the city but who is in reality anightclub prostitute She introduces him to an old policeman, also at the end ofhis career, who helps him search for his son, and to her boss and occasionalboyfriend He Ge (Huang He), who she presents as her fiance.
Once established, thesebasic ingredients cannot lead in too many directions. The teacher startssuspecting something is wrong with his daughter. The search for the lost sonand a tour of the city in He Ge's luxurious Audioffer the obligatory travelogue. A sordid affair, in which an unhappy clientdisapproves of being deprived of his favourite girl, erupts early on and hasits inevitable tragic unravelling before the end A push here, a shove there andthe plot proceeds towards its satisfactory, if not terribly surprising, ending.
But forget the script: it isnot Luxury Car's strongest point andthe feature as a whole works despite, rather than because, of it. Rather, what drawsthe audience is Wang's immense sympathy for his characters, which is evident atall times, and how he keeps the tone muted and the drama understatedthroughout.
Silences are often moreeloquent than dialogue, which tactfully leave unsaid most of the elements thatmelodramas usually trumpet in detail. As seen here, there are few flatteringaspects to the new face of China, and the trauma of overnight urbanisation ispainfully felt. As the title ironically hints, the luxury car now has priorityover the old fashioned dreams of the past.
Deeply etched on the face ofLi Qi Ming, as played by Wu You Cai,is the stunned disarray of a man out of his depth, gradually deprived of anyillusion or hope and yet never losing his innocence.
Tian Yuan, as the daughter, conveys not only through herexpression but every inch of her body the disheartened exhaustion of a personapproaching the end of her tether.
Although father anddaughter, the gap between them seems far farther than one generation apart -and even a relatively upbeat ending cannot dispel that impression.
Bai Bu Ting Media
Arte France Cinema
Mao Yong Hong
Liu Yong Hong
Li Wen Bo
Wu You Cai
Li Yi Qing