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November 10, 2015

Denver Film Festival: Dearest


Qin ai de
Peter Chan Ho-Sun - 2014
Versatile Films

I surely can't be the only one who has noticed that independently and probably unknown in a couple of cases, filmmakers have made at least four new films dealing with parents searching for missing children. Two of these films are part of the current line-up at this year's Denver Film Festival. I wrote about The World of Kanako. The other two films I'm aware of are the U.S. indie, Reed Morano's Meadowland, and another Chinese film, Lost and Love starring Andy Lau.

Based on true events, Peter Chan's film is initial about the divorced parents search for their three year old son who was abducted on the streets of Shenzhen, China. The search and rescue of the boy is only part of the story, the first half of the film. What Chan examines are not only the unexpected consequences when the son is found three years later, but also some of the unintended effects of mainland China's one child policy. Additionally, issue of class and the use of dialect, with the official policy of having everyone speak standard Mandarin, are also touched on.

The film open with Wenjun, who runs a small, shabby cyber cafe in a side street, tinkering with the tangle of wires above the street. The internet and electric wires provides a visual metaphor for a story about human connections, bonded and severed. Wenjun's ex-wife, Xiaojuan has the upscale job, along with a car and a new husband, but Wenjun is the one awarded child custody. Out in the streets with friends about the same age, the son, known as Pengpeng, spots his mother's car and chases after it. We see a quick glimpse of someone picking up the small boy from a distance.

The search takes Wenjun to different parts of China, dealing with people who claim to know the whereabouts of Pengpeng. It is during this earlier part of the film that there is greater use of hand-held cinematography, emphasizing Wenjun's travels to unfamiliar places in his attempt to find his son, or at least get answers.

After a trio of star vehicles designed for pan-Asian appeal, Peter Chan has been making films that are more specifically Chinese with this film and his previous American Dreams in China. Top billed Vickie Zhao Wei has more of a supporting role as the widow of man known to have abducted children. Zhao is almost unrecognizable here as a naive, perhaps intellectually impaired, woman who learns too late about the true nature of her husband. Zhao won several Best Actress awards for her performance here.

The film ends with a gathering of the main cast members with their real life counterparts, as well as titles providing additional narrative closure. Only the most hard-hearted will not be touched by the little girl, often seen by herself, who plays Pengpeng's adopted little sister.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 10, 2015 02:53 PM