One of the biggest upcoming arthouse stars of China is without a doubt Yibai Zhang. With strong genre works like Curiosity Killed the Cat and the best entry in the About Love omnibus, his name is starting to spread around the globe. His latest outing is Lost Indulgence [Mi Guo] and shows yet again another side of Yibai's competence.
With Lost Indulgence Yibai travels to the Yang-Tse river and immediately enters the territory of fellow filmmaker Zhang Ke Jia, showing China as a mixture of old and new in a bleak, industrialized yet impressive landscape. But visually Zhang takes a different direction that is more reminiscent of Kar-wai's work, with rather dreamy camera work and many shots where parts are hidden behind the scenery. And indeed, Lost Indulgence could've well been the result of a Ke Jia/Kar-wai collaboration.
Zhang's film is divided into several sections, each introduced by a clay figure representing the happenings. Though most parts flow well together those intermissions also indicate the somewhat fragmented way of Zhang's main story arc. The film starts by introducing the characters but takes little time to arrive at a fatal accident catapulting a taxi driver and his client (a prostitute) into the Yang-Tse river.
While the taxi driver remains lost, the girl lands in the hospital and is taken care of by the family of the driver. When she finally moves in with them the film starts focusing on the relationship between the driver's son and the prostitute. A strange relationship that remains floating between friendship and physical attraction but never fully develops itself in either direction, leaving the two circling each other for the entire running time.
Visually the film is impressive. Thumbs up for the strong, dreamy camera work and some absolutely stellar shots of the surroundings. Nature and industry are often opposed in films but Zhang finds beauty in the combination of both. The best shots of the film are those of the characters set to their immense surroundings. Use of color is strong as ever but then again, this is a Chinese film.
The score is pretty subdued which is hardly strange for a drama like this, but from time to time Zhang lashes out with great effect. The scene filmed from behind the glasses or the manic dance scene belong to the best the film has to offer and underline the importance of a good musical score and what it can do to the atmosphere of a film.
Acting is very solid with a star role for Karen Mok as the prostitute and a solid little guest appearance for Eric Tsang. As the film progresses the relations between the parties become vaguer (yet somehow more human), but oddly enough the question of what exactly went on in the cab is not raised until the very end of the film. This keeps the interest of the audience growing without needing to touch on the actual subject, constantly undermining the relationship of the main characters.
The film remains somewhat vague, story-wise and character-wise, but manages to turn that into a positive feat. It is hard to get a good grip on the elements at play between the different characters but at the same time it all feels very natural and spontaneous. Add to that some lovely visuals, a strong score and some neat little touches to lighten up the atmosphere from time to time and what you have is quality drama, looking very good on Zhang's ever growing resume.