A shaggy dog story from first-time Chinese director Jiang Jiachen
Dir/scr. Jiang Jiachen. China. 2018. 100 mins.
It may take its name from a lost canine, but Looking for Lucky could also be called “looking for luck” — it’s what the film’s protagonists, university graduate student Guangsheng (Ding Xinhe) and his dad (Yu Hai), desperately seek. Instead, they’re trapped in a dog-eat-dog cycle in northeastern China’s Shenyang city, dreaming of bigger and better things but thwarted by the prevailing attitude of ruthlessness and selfishness. For the feature’s first half, all they can do is search for the missing pooch, talk endlessly to each other and to anyone who could possibly help, and try to find their way out of a seemingly mundane situation with potentially life-changing ramifications.
A smart, witty, amusing and also endearing effort that could and should travel well
The debut of writer/director/editor Jiang Jiachen, Looking for Lucky doesn’t ask too much of its audience in immediately grasping the seriousness of Guangsheng’s plight. That something as commonplace as a wandering bulldog could genuinely derail his plans for the future is apparent in every interaction, and in the general disdain that constantly comes his way. Packaged with an obvious satirical air and coupled with the film’s naturalistic style — with the filmmaker compiling the feature out of 61 long takes — it’s a smart, witty, amusing and also endearing effort that could and should travel well.
Mentioned more than he’s seen, the titular Lucky belongs to Guangsheng’s professor, who the aspiring academic is trying to impress in order to obtain a reference for a faculty job. He’d rather locate the dog himself than confess what has happened, lest it jeopardise his quest to secure stable employment, live a good life and attract a wife. Alas, the cops are hardly accommodating, and each of the supposed witnesses wants something from him: cash, even before he offers a reward, or to blackmail him into taking care of another animal.
It all borders on farcical and absurd, yet Jiang never takes leave of reality in his somewhat episodic scenarios. Ding and Yu’s fine-tuned performances assist considerably, proving more authentic and lived-in as each scene unfurls. Here, patient pacing — and patient shots to match — lead to fleshed-out portrayals that speak not only to the duo’s specific father-son issues, but to a country in the midst of a generational clash.
Of course, when the puppy problem is resolved, and quicker than viewers might expect, it’s abundantly clear that Guangsheng’s struggles are far from over. In fact his life seethes with commentary about Chinese society’s economic disparities. And, when his university crush uses her charms to get ahead, about the extent of opportunism and institutionalised corruption as well.
In addition to their relaxed timing, cinematographer Jiang Jianbing’s images help paint the caustically comedic drama with vibrancy rather than bleakness, in yet another choice indicative of director Jiang’s assured approach. Brimming with aesthetic confidence, emotional candour and thematic conviction, Looking for Lucky certainly isn’t looking for a voice, a style or something to say, marking its guiding hand as a talent to watch.
Production company: Youku Information Technology (Beijing) Co, Heyi Pictures Co
International sales: Good Move Media, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Liu Jingya
Cinematography: Jiang Jianbing
Editing: Jiang Jiachen
Production design: Yang Jiahui
Main cast: Ding Xinhe, Yu Hai, Da Bing, Dong Lifan, Dong Longbin, Jia Tianming, Huang Jingxin