Refined perfs and atmospheric naturalism offer pleasurable compensations in "Return Ticket," an overpacked Taiwanese-Chinese co-production.

Refined perfs and atmospheric naturalism offer pleasurable compensations in “Return Ticket,” an overpacked Taiwanese-Chinese co-production. Pic’s solid premise taps into the overworked, underpaid underbelly of Shanghai, but breaks down due to too many characters and less-than-clear plot development. Strictly festival fare, “Ticket” has enough charm to reserve passage for future travels, but is unlikely to be remembered as a first-class effort.

At the film’s center is failed clothing entrepreneur Cao Li (Qin Hai-lu), who finds herself struggling in Shanghai alongside many friends from her hometown, Fuyang. Her buddies include Guo (Li Bingbing) and near-mute, afro-sporting Jiuzi (Shen Yi-qun), both of whom are also looking for better ways to make ends meet.

When Jiuzi finds a dilapidated bus, Guo plans to use it as transportation for Fuyang expats wanting to return home for the New Year holiday season. Guo enlists the increasingly desperate Cao as the chief ticket-seller, while he organizes a mechanic to make the bus road-worthy.

The premise works well, and leading thesp Qin offers the right balance of dignity and ingenuity as someone who’s too honest for her own good. Co-thesps are also strong, although the way Jiuzi’s speech impediment is played for laughs and bathos tends to aggravate.

Helming by commercials director Teng Yung-shing is both confident and restrained, capturing the action clearly. His observational shots of day-to-day detail, from steaming vegetables to a solitary cat sitting on a roof, are genuinely intriguing and have the Ozu-like poise of Hou Hsiao Hsien, pic’s Taiwanese exec producer (Hou’s editor, Liao Ching-sung, handled cutting duties). Pic’s biggest failing is its screenplay (by five different scripters), which sometimes feels muddled and refers to too much off-camera, pre-film action. A final expositional title card offers an excessively involved postscript that not only alters film’s tone, but suggests “Return Ticket” is only half the film the director intended.

Tech credits have the good-enough mark of an Asian indie production. Piano score, though of high quality, is deployed too insistently, to counterproductive effect.

Return Ticket

Taiwan-China

Production

A Shanghai Yuancun, THW Creative production. (International sales: Atom Cinema, Taipei.) Produced by Shan Lan-ping, Teng Yung-shing. Executive producer, Hou Hsiao Hsien. Directed by Teng Yung-shing. Screenplay, Yang Nan-chian, Teng, Qin Hai-lu, Ge Wen-zhe, Xi Ran.

Crew

Camera (color), Hsia Shao-yu; editor, Liao Ching-sung; music, Deep White; production designer, Hsia Shao-yu; art director, Kent Wong; sound, Tu Du-che. Reviewed at Hong Kong Filmart, March 21, 2011. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Qin Hai-lu, Tang Qun, Li Bingbing, Shen Yi-qun, Fang Xiao-yue. (Mandarin dialogue)
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