A migrant worker in Beijing’s social underbelly gets caught up with all kinds of money-grabbing individuals (both high and low) in the black comedy “Lost and Found.” Lively without becoming knockabout, this third feature by distaff helmer Ma Liwen has so far been shamefully ignored by most of the fest circuit, which played her artier previous feature, the delicate two-hander “You and Me.” Asiaphile events open to more accessible mainland production and ethnic-centered webs should give space to this well-scripted item, which opened locally in January.
Pic is adapted by Liu Zhenyun (who previously scripted Feng Xiaogang’s satire of contempo mainland mores, “Cell Phone”) from his own 2007 novel. With its complex, multicharacter plot and focus on a coin-obsessed society, the film is in the same vein as other recent comedies such as Gong Yingtian’s 2007 “Crazy Lottery.” However, the characters, and the heightened portrayal of quotidian corruption, can be traced back to helmer Huang Jianxin’s social satires of the ’80s and ’90s.
Loser Liu Yuejin (Li Yixiang) is a penniless migrant worker from Henan (scribe Liu Zhenyun’s home province), working as a cook on a Beijing construction site. Hired by real-estate tycoon Yan (Liu Xinyi) to provide a fake alibi after a scandal sheet links him to an actress, Liu makes a quick buck.
But soon afterward, his money pouch is stolen in the street. Inside is an IOU for 60,000 yuan (almost $9,000) from the guy who “stole” his wife five years earlier; worse, the IOU has a time limit and is about to run out.
Following a complicated string of coincidences, the thief later ends up breaking into the house of the corrupt Yan and his super-bitch wife (Chen Jin), accidentally making off with a computer memory stick that contains compromising vid material. As various gangsters, a private eye and other undesirables hunt for the thief and Liu, Liu is suddenly visited by his son (Zhang Zhiwei) and his trashy pregnant g.f. (Wang Man), who want to use the 60,000 yuan to start a business.
Liu’s life and others go into complete freefall. Native cunning and a large amount of blundering win the day, but a neat coda back in Henan keeps Liu tied to the wheel of fate.
Ma’s direction and Wu Di’s acute widescreen lensing perpetually remind the viewer of the city’s greedy, seedy elements always lurking behind the prosperous high-rise front of the central business district. Like Zhang Yimou’s echt-Beijing comedy “Keep Cool,” the typically rough, gruff local humor — delivered in the impenetrable local accent and argot — is often almost untranslatable. However, flavorsome casting (including cameos by several filmmakers) is enough to hook foreign auds.
Pic is also known as “I’m Liu Yuejin” (from the Chinese title), though the one on the print is “Lost and Found.”