A father’s attempts to be a matchmaker for his independent-minded daughter take surprising and entertaining turns in “The Park,” a well-scripted debut by writer-director Yin Lichuan with perfs to match. Highly accessible pic should have no trouble finding partners on the fest circuit and has modest theatrical and cable chances in the right hands.
Following Wang Fen’s black comedy “The Case,” this strong second entry ups the ante in producer Lola Zhang’s Yunnan New Film Project, a group of 10 features to be directed by young femme helmers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. All are already scripted and No. 3, “Here’s Shangri-La” by Taiwan’s Ismene Ting, is currently in post.
Retired teacher Gao Yuanshan (Wang Deshun, recalling the father figure in Ang Lee’s “Eat Drink Man Woman”) suddenly comes to stay at the home of his 29-year-old daughter, Xiaojun (Li Jia), in the provincial capital, Kunming. Dad’s visit is so unexpected that Xiaojun has to boot her b.f., Doudou (Xu Tao), out the bedroom window to maintain proprieties.
Xiaojun, a local TV journalist, has never gotten on well with her widowed father, and his fussing around, cooking and cleaning soon irritate her and lead to a rift with Doudou, a wannabe songwriter. When dad discovers Green Lake Park is a de facto matchmaking center for oldies trying to get their kids hitched, he starts touting Xiaojun’s credentials in the scenic marketplace. (Apparently, unmarried girls outnumber boys by 3:1 in China.)
Out of respect for her father, and from a genuine, blossoming love for him that forms the moving subtext of the whole story, Xiaojun goes along with his game plan, leading to some gently humorous encounters with male suitors. One, the confidant Xu Chao (Wang Xuebing), intrigues Xiaojun, and her father also takes a distinct liking to Xu’s widowed mom, prior to a surprising (and clever) twist.
Helmer Yin, who studied in France, already has a name in China as a writer and shows a good ear for natural dialogue with all its understatements and unexpressed feelings. Shot and edited in a simple, unaffected style, pic remains engrossing even when Yin just lets her actors get on with the job in occasional long takes.
Wang Deshun’s ace playing of the tolerant but crafty father makes the biggest impression, but he’s well supported by Li as the not-so-hardheaded daughter. Chemistry between the two is unshowy but excellent, with Zhou Yunshan’s chamber score adding emotional resonance. Lu Sheng’s lensing of Kunming locations is richer in interiors than exteriors, but shows a natural feel for the titular park’s attractions.