A bright performance by newcomer Zhu Lin can’t prevent severe credibility gaps and abrasive tonal shifts from harpooning the heartwarming intentions of “33 Postcards.” Centered on a Chinese orphan who arrives in Sydney to discover her “perfect Aussie” sponsor is doing time for murder, pic is an awkward mishmash of components, ranging from family-friendly contempo fairy tale to heavy-duty prison drama. A top-billed Guy Pearce will assist marketing, but it’s hard to imagine any demo embracing all the disparate elements of this Australian-Chinese co-production. “Postcards” will be delivered in theaters later this year in China and Oz.
Repping Vietnamese-born Australian helmer Pauline Chan’s first feature since the 1999 crime thriller “Little White Lies,” pic pulls at the heartstrings from the opening flashback of adorable moppet Mei Mei (Loh Chen-liu) arriving at the Dong Ying Orphanage in Guangxi. Now 16 and played by Zhu, Mei Mei has for 10 years received financial assistance and postcards from Dean Randall (Pearce), a handsome Aussie claiming to be a park ranger and family man.
With a dearth of background information that bedevils the entire movie, Mei Mei and her pals in the orphanage choir are suddenly whisked off to Sydney for a competition. Barely off the plane, Mei Mei sneaks away from supervisor Miss Chen (Taiwanese vet Elaine Jin) and sets off to find Randall and thank him for his support. Following a couple of mildly amusing transportation-related misadventures, she arrives at Long Bay jail and is promptly dismissed by Randall, who is sweating over a parole application.
While it’s easy enough to accept the start of Mei Mei’s AWOL expedition, many viewers are likely to question the plausibility of much that transpires when the plucky girl revisits Randall over several days and inspires him to look at life anew.
All this time she is accompanied by Randall’s brother, Gary (Rhys Muldoon), a petty crook who steals high-end cars for garage owner Fletch (Terry Serio) and his son Carl (Lincoln Lewis), a young hunk with eyes for Mei Mei. Although she’s being drawn into participating in a major crime, no one thinks to ask the extremely innocent teenager how she arrived in Australia or where she’s supposed to be staying.
Worse still, Randall’s welfare officer Barbara (Claudia Karvan) not only fails to ask the obvious questions but has no qualms about rushing through legal documents and declaring, incredibly, that Mei Mei can remain in Australia.
With the addition of jarring scenes showing prison tough guy Tommy (Matt Nable) brutally stabbing an inmate and smashing his fist into Randall’s jaw, pic has only Zhu’s bright smile and bubbly enthusiasm staving off total capitulation. Karvan and Pearce can do little with characters whose most intriguing attributes are only hinted at.
Nice visuals of Sydney tourist attractions and grungy inner-city streets stand out in a pro tech package.