Li is a lady who lunches. She is not Marie Antoinette. She simply is unprepared
for the speed at which fortunes can reverse in Hong Kong. Her Mainland
chauffeur is not a revolutionary. He simply wants a safe delivery for his
pregnant wife, but they cannot afford the punitive second child fee. Each will
face an economic crisis, but Fai’s will be exacerbated by geography in Flora
Lau’s Bends (more sensibly known as “Crossing
the Border” in Chinese language territories, trailer here), which
launches the new season of ContemporAsian at MoMA.
organizes charity events and looks good on her husband’s arm at business functions.
She seems quite satisfied with how things have turned out, even if her spouse
is a bit of a shark and a player. The fact that he has not been home for
several days does not seem to raise any red flags for her, but she definitely
takes notice when her credit cards are declined. Finding their accounts drained
or frozen, Li starts hocking the family art collection to keep up appearances
in her social circle.
Fai has his own problems. Although he has been granted HK citizenship, his wife
Ting is still Mainland PRC. To hide her advanced pregnancy, she becomes a
veritable prisoner in their Shenzhen flat. It is all very confusing for their
little girl Haihai. Fai needs money to smuggle her across the border and a
hospital admission letter to secure her a bed for delivery, but both are hard
to come by for a man of his position.
Bends sounds about as
hot-button as it gets, indicting HK’s laissez-faire economy on the right and
the Communist Party’s unforgiving family planning on the left. Yet, the
execution is decidedly quiet and intimate. Happily, Lau offers viewers
character studies rather than white papers, but the first time director’s sense
of pacing is still a bit flat. However, she gets a key assist from superstar
cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who makes it all look coolly elegant.
it is unquestionably Carina Lau who makes the film. Approaching legendary
status, Lau still makes a convincing trophy wife, but it is her chops that truly
impress in Bends. Despite Li’s
outward reserve, Lau clearly expresses her mounting confusion and anxiety. At
the risk of belaboring the point, Lau brilliantly pulls viewers into Li’s inner
turmoil rather than resorting to the sort of bug-eyed arm-flailing Meryl Streep
over-indulged in throughout Osage. What
can we say? Lau is simply much better at their craft.
is all very well and good, but Chen Kun nearly wilts into the background as
Fai. Nevertheless, a strong supporting cast keeps him propped up in key scenes.
Even with limited screen time, Stephanie Che makes a lasting impression as
Lulu, Fai’s old HK flame, who now works as a maternity nurse. As Ting and
Haihai, Tian Yuan and young Tu Jiamen also humanize the story rather
There is no denying the wider issues raised by Bends, but it is only zeitgeisty after
the fact. In the moment, it is unflinchingly intimate in its focus. Recommended
for fans of Lau and those who appreciate films helmed by women, with great
roles for women, Bends screens Monday
through Sunday (4/21-4/27) as part of MoMA’s regular ContemporAsian film
Labels: Carina Lau, Christopher Doyle, ContemporAsian Film Series, Hong Kong Cinema