This likable, if slight, indie effort from China split Vancouver’s Dragons and Tigers prize with Japan’s stylish “Maborosi.” The pic itself is made of decidedly uneven parts, and “Goldfish” probably won’t be swimming in many offshore ponds.
First-time helmer Wu Di, at age 26, already has lensed several key Chinese indie efforts, including “For Fun” and “The Days.” This one in fact, is almost another take on the plot of the latter, and considerably more polished film, which saw a shiftless Beijing man lose his mate to the lure of the West, only to take up with another woman back home.
Here, the no-getter is Lixin (Ma Xiaoyong, who also co-scripted), a tender of small fish and a habitue of cinema lobbies. He’s in vaguely articulated love with Zhuzhu (Yang Lu), a cute but not-very-talented dancer in a government-sponsored dance group. Tired of playing forever-revolting peasants, she decides to trade in her “ballet” for a chance to study abroad.
Quicker than you can say “capitalist running dog,” her pal Haiying (Zhang Tianwei) snaps up the defenseless Lixin and sets about changing him, with little success. When the goldfish-seller shows no signs of ambition, she talks him into flying to San Francisco, where her uncle has offered them jobs.
They make it as far as the airplane, but when Lixin sees Zhuzhu in the crowd, he bails out, dragging Haiying with him. Unfortunately, presents have been given and goodbyes have been said, and the unhappy couple is too embarrassed to go home. Instead, they set up cheap digs in a rougher part of Beijing, and Lixin sends his mom fake letters about how well they’re doing. Other than that, he sleeps a lot and Haiying eventually gets fed up — just in time for him to run into Zhuzhu, who likewise never left town.
“Goldfish” is low-key stuff, but Wu — using an irony-filled flashback format — has enough of a tart edge to keep things moving. The pic however, has the odd habit of suddenly slipping into soapy cliches, with flat lines, TV-style lensing and corny synth music all conspiring to undo the otherwise fine scenes. Fortunately, the actors aren’t dragged down by these helming gaffes. The film isn’t aided by reverb-laden sound, and the shots aren’t always well matched, but these problems remain easy to overlook when you’re getting such a refreshingly honest look at street-level Beijing life.