Up-and-coming Chinese helmer Zhang Yibai’s latest feature, “Lost Indulgence,” set beneath the disjointed halves of a huge bridge over the Yangtze, fluctuates between innocence and perversity. A bereaved family must reconfigure itself after the death of the father to accommodate the intrusion of a dancehall girl with a broken leg. “You lost a husband and gained a concubine,” she succinctly puts it. More claustrophobic, arty and surreal than Zhang’s previous efforts, this oddly-titled coming-of-ager should succeed on the fest circuit, though its fate on home soil is yet to be determined.
When teenager Xian-chuen (Tan Jian-ci) learns his father’s taxi has inexplicably plunged into the river, he has difficulty believing his dad (Eric Tsang) is dead. Xian is further upset when his mother, Li (Jiang Wenli), invites the surviving crippled passenger from that fatal ride to move in with them to fulfill the family’s obligation.
Initially the presence of bar girl Su-dan (Karen Mok) serves as a constant irritant to the troubled, moody boy, who outsulks the sullen boarder, leaving mom to broker an uneasy peace between them. In the crowded rooms at the very back of a multifamily apartment, Su-dan’s wheelchair with her protruding leg proves difficult to maneuver.
But as Su-dan and Xian-chuen spend time together, the dynamic changes. The boy begins to appeal to Su-dan’s spontaneous self in as a quasi sibling, while the pubescent teen starts to fall under the sexual spell of the older woman, to mama Li’s growing consternation.
Meanwhile, Li, who works double shifts as a veterinarian, finds herself succumbing to the blandishments of a handsome younger man (Hong Kong rock star Eason Chan) whose dog she tries to save.
Zhang often frames his characters against the strange no-man’s land near the unfinished bridge, visible from the apartment window. Just beyond the confines of the apartment also lies the bustling cityscape of Chongqing (Zhang’s hometown and the setting of several of his films). The city’s impossibly hilly terrain figures as an obstacle course through which Li and Xian schlep wheelchair-bound Su-dan.
Zhang excels at tracing the subtle reversals and permutations among the three principal characters as all cope with some form of loss and regeneration in the unnaturally close proximity of Su-dan’s shut-in existence. Thesping is excellent throughout, Zhang casting “exotic” Hong Kong actors Chan and Mok to rep the outsider elements, while mainland thesps embody the core family group.
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