Movie Review: Lost Love (流水落花)

The Hong Kong film industry has seen better days since the Shaw Brothers pumped out dramas and martial arts features that put the city on the cinematic world map. Since that time, it has seen other global successes, particularly with films like Wong Kar-wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and 2046, and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s INFERNAL AFFAIRS (a film that’s far superior to Martin Scorsese’s remake, THE DEPARTED). In more recent years though, Hong Kong has suffered from a talent drain of sorts, with many in the industry heading north to China where the budgets and paycheques are much larger than they are here. That situation has led to young local filmmakers turning their pens and camera lenses to the city’s social ills. Films like TEN YEARS were successful both here and abroad but the implementation of the country’s National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020 killed off any future for films like those being made. With budgets constricted even further, young filmmakers had nothing left to deal with than “safe” social issues like our overseas domestic workers, our city’s refugees and our aging population. The new film, LOST LOVE, takes on another “safe” social issue — fostering children, something that few local families would ever consider doing.

Mei (actress-singer Sammi Cheng/鄭秀文, INFERNAL AFFAIRS and INFERNAL AFFAIRS III) and Bun (Alan Luk/陸駿光, S STORM) are a young couple who, like many in Hong Kong, barely manage to make ends meet. Following the death of their only child, Mei decides to make a career out of fostering children, something that Bun agrees to but is less enthusiastic about. He would rather they try again to have their own child but money is money. Over the next two decades they welcome a string of children into their home and, through these kids, Mei’s heart towards the responsibility begins to change. Bun, however, feels neglected, which causes a rift between the couple.

LOST LOVE has an interesting premise but first-time filmmaker and co-screenwriter Ka Sing-fung/賈勝楓 falls into the same trap that affects so many other young filmmakers here — the dialogue fails to plumb the characters’ deep emotions. All too often with Hong Kong films, characters go from zero to a hundred and then back to zero in their outrage within seconds. There’s nothing in the middle because local screenwriters don’t know how to write such dialogue. Instead, they rely on false sentimentality to score points with their audiences. Ka is no different and here he really doubles down on the schmaltz at the end of the film by using a montage of all the foster children smiling as Mei reflects on her life and the happiness these kids had brought her. Similarly, when Mei and Bun’s marriage hits the rocks, Ka deals with it perfunctorily (she yells for a few seconds) and then tosses it aside never to be discussed again.

But this view is coming from a gweilo. Local audiences and critics are loving this film, with one critic even calling Cheng’s performance one of the best of her career. For me, a series of bad wigs and mawkish acting doesn’t cut it.

LOST LOVE opened in Hong Kong last Thursday (March 2nd). Whether you like it or not will depend on your tolerance for schmaltz.

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