About 20,000 babies are abducted each year in China. That gut-wrenching statistic was recently the inspiration for two complementary high-profile films released within a few months of each other. Both starred A-list stars having shed all glamor to portray simple people in the pangs of abject grief, in a bid both humanistic (bringing visibility to a gaping social wound) and artistic (showing their mettle as actors). One, Peter Chan’s Dearest, starred Zhao Wei and was concerned chiefly with the agonizing emotional and social complexities resulting from child abduction, but the other, Peng Sanyuan’s debut feature Lost and Love, is a more streamlined film that strives to find beauty and hope amid all the heartbreak. Andy Lau plays Lei Zekuan, a father who has been looking for his abducted son for the past 15 years, criss-crossing a country of 1,3 billion inhabitants on his motorbike decked with flags displaying photos of his child and other abducted children, restlessly handing out leaflets, and doggedly following every single tip from online volunteers. One day, after getting into an accident on a winding mountain road, he meets Zeng Shuai (Jing Boran), a young man who repairs his motorbike, before confiding in him that he was abducted when he was four, and still doesn’t know who his biological parents are. He does not resent his adoptive parents and even loves them, but he will not be a registered citizen with an ID card and a normal life for as long as he won’t be able to prove he’s an abducted child. Thus Zekuan and Shuai decide to travel together and assist each other, forming a powerful bond along the way.
Lost and Love‘s main quality is how simple and linear it is. By making it a road movie, Peng Sanyuan has made the choice of nuance without complexity. The focus never shifts from Andy Lau, carefully observing every detail of his quest, from the purely practical aspects (the odd jobs to earn the money to keep going, the relentless printing of posters and leaflets), to more human concerns : Zekuan keeps precise track on a notebook of everyone who helped him, not so much, one suspects, to repay them later as to acknowledge to himself that there’s hope when they’re goodness in people (the film draws attention to that fact by casting Tony Leung Ka Fai in a cameo as a kind traffic cop). Crippling doubts and appalling setbacks are also observed, as details about his lost child begin to slowly fade in his memory, and he is met with hostility from the parents he visits to make sure their son isn’t actually his own. The road movie element also allows for a constant stream of breathtaking vistas (shot masterfully by Mark Lee Pingbing) which would almost act as a tourist-baiting travelogue if the film’s painful topic wasn’t constantly at the forefront. Still the beauty of China, as well as the random kindness of some of the people Zekuan meets, coalesce into a strong and beautiful undercurrent of hope, illustrated in striking – if a bit obvious – fashion in a shot where the motorbike reaches the sun-bathed end of a tunnel. Adding to that sense of hope is Jing Boran’s Shuai. Even though Shuai illustrates another facet of the issue, the social and emotional ripples of the abduction on the abductee’s life, he never becomes a didactic device : his plight constantly bounces off Zekuan’s in their joint search and the two share a bond that can hardly be labelled properly : part surrogate father/surrogate son, part yin and yang, it yields the film’s most moving moments and avoids the trapping of them being simply two walking-talking exposés on a social issue.
In a way, the film only stumbles or undermines its own power when it tries to go against its well-judged simplicity : two weak narrative strands about a woman committing suicide after her daughter is abducted, and a child abductor played by Sandra Ng getting caught thanks to Zekuan’s flags, are supposed to add perspective but are too perfunctory to be anything more than footnotes. Other contrivances also set back the film at times, such as some artificial conflict being introduced sometimes between the two main characters, or the thudding use of sleep-talking as a plot device. But the two central performances confidently carry the film through these weaknesses. Jing Boran, recalling a young Tony Leung Chiu Wai with his blend of innocence and good-hearted resilience, makes a case for being one of the most promising up-and-comers in China right now, while Andy Lau radiates humanity, grief and hope in probably his best performance yet. Their chemistry is a thing of beauty, while retaining enough modesty and clumsiness to remain believable as a real-life bond between two people who’ve know each other only for a few weeks. And Zbigniew Preisner’s score is simply gorgeous, lyrical enough to complement the images, delicate enough to enhance the emotions without overblowing them.
Long Story Short : Gorgeously shot, carefully observed and beautifully hopeful, Lost and Love is carried through its more contrived patches by Andy Lau and Jing Boran’s superb performances. ****