Dir: Wang Xiaoshuai. China, 2008. 115 mins.
With In Love We Trust, Sixth Generation director Wang Xiaoshuai presents what can only be described as natural tearjerker material - leukaemia, divorce, infidelity - in the milieu of the Chinese middle class and delivers an uneven picture which attempts the impossible and fails to deliver it long before the final stretch.
Wang departs here from the observation of Chinese affairs seen in all his films, right back to The Days and Frozen, and tackles a universal subject with no particularly local context.
This is a risky approach, as a film that is not firmly rooted in its own culture loses much of its credibility, but this is the one obstacle that Wang handles with a great degree of success.
One of In Love We Trust's main points of interest for foreign audiences will be the presentation of a Chinese middle class which is in no way different from any other middle class in the world. His choice of an unfamiliar cast to non-Chinese audiences also turns out to be judicious, for any type of star wattage would have over-burdened this fragile dramatic structure.
And the performances, all subdued, restrained and understated, are a definite asset. The script, by Wang himself, is another matter, full of pitfalls and at least a half an hour too long. Commercial prospects look thin, and In Love We Trust seems destined for overseas Chinese communities.
Five-year-old Hehe (Zhang Chuqyan) suffers from acute leukaemia. A bone marrow transplant is urgently needed, but there is no available donor. Her mother, Mei Zhu (Liu Weiwei), who works for a real estate agency, divorced her father several years ago and is remarried to the kind, understanding Lao Xie (Cheng Taisheng).
Hehe's natural father, Xiao Lu (Zhang Jiayi) a building contractor in deep financial trouble, has also remarried - the air stewardess Dong Fan (Yu Nan), who is frustrated because he won't consider having a child.
Both natural parents take tests and are turned down as unsuitable donors. The only quick solution on offer is for them to have another child who would have the exact type of bone marrow needed for the transplant - something which could result in the breakdown of two marriages.
Mei Zhu has her mind set, however, even when in-vitro insemination fails and the former couple have to go about it the old-fashioned way.
Though the film is entirely shot in Beijing, there is nothing to identify the city at any point, from its first images shot from the inside of a car steering its way through skyscraper mazes, to the modern design of intimate interiors.
Wang insists on having his characters say as little as possible and defusing, at least through the first part of the film, the melodramatic effect by shooting scenes in long shot or leaving much off screen. Sharp, cool, wide screen images also help in this respect and the constraint of shooting in real-life locations generates an intimacy between the characters, who almost whisper their dialogue for most of the time.
Of the four central performances, Liu Weiwei' s Mei Zhu is the most persuasive, probably the best-written part.
Director of photography