Sufficiently sweet to serve as a date movie for all ages, “Lost for Words” comes across as almost subversively retrograde in its old-fashioned approach to charting the slow blossoming of a cross-cultural romance. There’s doubtless a simpatico audience out there for helmer Stanley J. Orzel’s leisurely paced drama about the bond that forms between an American IT specialist and a Chinese ballerina in contemporary Hong Kong. But it’s doubtful that many of the folks most likely to enjoy this modestly engaging love story will succumb to its charms until it reaches home-screen platforms.
Grace Huang (“The Man With the Iron Fists”) makes an appealing impression throughout as Anna, a Beijing-trained dancer who quickly rises to the rank of solo performer after she lands a position with a Hong Kong ballet troupe. Unlike Mei Mei (Joman Chiang), her more uninhibited friend and roommate, Anna is a demure innocent when it comes to dealing with males of the species. After meeting cute with Michael (Sean Faris), a hunky Internet-security whiz hired by a Hong Kong-based corporation, she remains convinced that they’re just friends, and nothing more, even as they repeatedly meet to serve as each other’s language tutors.
At first, Michael, still nursing a broken heart after breaking up with his girlfriend back in the States, isn’t in the market for romance, either. But one thing leads to another — very slowly, yet inexorably — and eventually the couple shares a close encounter during one of the most discreetly photographed lovemaking scenes in recent memory. And then, of course, complications arise.
Orzel and co-scripter C. Joseph Bendy earn credit for avoiding predictable plot developments that appear to be foreshadowed in early scenes. Even though Michael is newly discharged from the Marines after two tours of duty in Afghanistan, the pic never depicts him as unduly traumatized by his wartime experiences. (Faris is much easier to take after Michael finally shakes himself out of his gloomy-Gus funk.) Despite some early hints that Michael might employ his warrior skills to battling hackers, nothing ever comes of this. And while the audience is cued to suspect the worst of Anna’s demanding ballet master (Terence Yin), his motives are more or less pure, even if his manner is overbearing.
Trouble is, “Lost for Words” is so scrupulously sedate for so long that when it finally does lurch into melodrama during the final 20 or so minutes, the effect is discomfortingly wrenching. The pic is infinitely more engaging as it keeps narrative momentum to a bare minimum, and simply follows its lead characters around the various Hong Kong locales that are enhanced by Jimmy Wong’s purposefully beautiful lensing. A scene set inside a glass-bottom gondola cable-car is especially enchanting.