Mainland Chinese actress Jiang Lifen turns multihyphenate with “White Gardenia,” a promising bow as writer-director that could squeeze into sidebars of Asia-friendly fests on its modest (and modestly arty) charm. Restrained meller set in Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu province during the 1930s and ’40s recalls the recent “Springtime in a Small Town” in its economical simplicity, though even at 87 minutes it’s dramatically overstretched.
Jiang plays the main character, Yang Liuqing, devoted wife to small-town doctor Jiang Zhichang (Guo Guangping), whose memories of her pre-WWII career as a famous Yue Opera singer are stirred when a touring company passes through. As Yang recalls her more glamorous Shanghai life of the ’30s, courted with white gardenias by pushy Chinese-American businessman Li Hanwen (David Wu), pic crosscuts between a vividly colored past and her gray, muted present. Always neatly composed, film shows a liking for longish (though not excessively mannered) takes and makes the most of a clearly modest budget. Jiang is OK as the central figure, though she stirs no special chemistry with Wu and her character’s internal conflicts are more implied than explored by the dialogue-light script.