A bunch of twentysomethings meet at a reunion party and chew over their so-so lives to date in “Park Shanghai,” a generally successful attempt to create a new, modernist strand in contempo mainland Chinese cinema. Talky but never dull, and with a contemplative, almost dreamlike atmosphere that springs from the movie’s blend of character and cityscapes, this debut feature by writer-director Kevin Huang, himself a late-twentysomething from the film’s title city, deserves exposure in fest sidebars. Pic went out February in Shanghai theaters.
The central character, who’s more of an observer than a participant, is Zhengdong (Wei Yun), aka “the Poet,” who’s due to move to Shenzhen on business the following morning but decides to spend an all-nighter at the reunion in a ritzy karaoke club. Most of his former classmates — including portly musician Daqing (Dong Wenjun) and Asian-American Nick (William Feng) — have achieved moderate success without being fully satisfied, either emotionally or professionally.
Protags feel a common bond and are getting along OK in their lives, but there’s something unidentifiable that’s lacking. And then Zhengdong bumps into former g.f. Ruirui (Chu Yingying), now married and pregnant, whom he’s never stopped thinking about since she went to study in the U.K.
Pic’s theme is hardly new by Western standards but seems fresh in a mainland Chinese context — especially in Shanghai, a city now trying to rebuild a local film culture (long ago lost to Beijing) after 50-odd years. Huang’s dialogue is easy and largely natural-sounding, avoiding the kind of pretentious self-examination and maudlin self-pity reunion movies often sink into, and thankfully free of big emotional outpourings.
Most impressive is Huang’s visual framing, with Zheng Kai’s fluid camera a roving third-party observer and the city itself a living, background presence in the characters’ lives. HD lensing looks just fine on the bigscreen. Dialogue track is a tad too upfront, but sound effects (traffic, karaoke music) are well integrated, sustaining the pic’s moody atmosphere.
Performances are OK, with only Feng a mite over-insistent in the ensemble.