An interesting idea fails to jell, and an even more fascinating one is left on the shelf, in "The Way," a docudrama about a mainland Chinese man who travels from Hungary to his homeland in search of a new bride and his son's affections. Well-shot item could find a home in European TV skeds but is a frustrating experience, considering the opportunities lost. Central character Liu Zhixian is a 55-year-old intellectual who came to Hungary in 1990 after a marriage back home to a peasant woman, which produced one son and ended in divorce after 18 years. Now settled in Budapest, and feeling frisky enough for a new companion, Liu takes an ad in a Chinese newspaper for a young bride and travels to Beijing to check her out and also re-meet his son.
Much of the film is in the form of voiceovers by the two men as they recap their past and ponder the mysteries of life as skilled lenser Tibor Mathe fills the screen with attractive images of modern China, both in Shanghai and the capital. The son complains that his father has lost touch with his homeland and there’s an unbridgeable gulf between them; Dad feels guilty over running away to a new life and tends to intellectualize even the simplest emotional concept.
The meeting with the potential bride, Wu, gets short shrift in screen time: After a rendezvous in a park, during which Liu virtually interviews her, she abruptly disappears, presumably having failed to meet his exacting criteria. The fact that both Liu and his son are basically pretty cool, unsympathetic characters doesn’t promote audience involvement in their stories.
Best part of pic is the start, showing Liu’s life in Budapest. It’s here that director Ferenc Moldovanyi, who made the interesting Paris-based featurette “Hotel Ouest” five years ago, should have stayed: The influx of Chinese into Hungary since the early ’90s — to a present total of some 40,000 — is a fascinating story in itself, full of cultural contradictions and offshoots including gang warfare. Even a tentative bite at the subject might have yielded more drama and conflict than the half-baked, exotic postcard on display here. Blowup from 16mm is excellent.