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.