An engaging performance by lead actress Yao Qianyu isn’t enough to stop the ironically titled "Perfect Life" from curdling in its own arty juices.

An engaging performance by lead actress Yao Qianyu isn’t enough to stop the ironically titled “Perfect Life” from curdling in its own arty juices. Second feature by mainland-born, Hong Kong-based writer-helmer Emily Tang is a rote, anomie-heavy “isn’t life in China boring” yarn, with a crime subplot masquerading as dramatic development. Pic is a step back after Tang’s promising 2001 debut, “Conjugation,” which seemed to augur a director with a fresh approach to characterization. “Life” looks unlikely to escape the fest gulag.

TV thesp Yao — a dead ringer for Taiwanese actress Rene Liu — plays Li Yueying, who applies for work in an entertainment troupe in China’s northeast but ends up as a hotel chambermaid. Small details in Yao’s sensitive perf sketch her desire to better herself, but the pic later stalls in a dreary relationship with a crippled guy (Cheng Taisheng) involved in smuggling a painting. Sans explanation, apart from its handheld docu style, the pic also starts intercutting the docu story of a mainland femme (Jenny Tse) in Hong Kong whose fate could prefigure Li’s. Lai Yu-fai’s DV lensing of the Mainland segs is gray but sharp.

Perfect Life

Hong Kong - China

Production

An Xstream Pictures production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Chow Keung. Co-producers, Jia Zhangke, Li Xiudong. Directed, written by Emily Tang (Tang Xiaobai).

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Lai Yu-fai; additional camera (docu sections), Tang, Chow Keung; editor, Chow; art director, Lam Ching. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Aug. 27, 2008. Original Mandarin title: Wanmei shenghuo. Mandarin, Cantonese dialogue. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Yao Qianyu, Cheng Taisheng, Yu Zhilong, Jenny Tse.

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