J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pali Road: A Hawaiian Detour

It is sort of like a Hawaiian Mulholland Drive. Dr. Lily Zhang’s life will drastically change after an accident on this titular scenic route. Most distressingly, she finds all traces of her lover have been mysteriously erased. However, she will tenaciously cling to her memories in Jonathan Lim’s Pali Road (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The Chinese-born Zhang cares about her patients and about what her parents think. Both cause a lot of stress in her life, especially given how strongly the latter object to her American significant other, grade school teacher Neil Lang. Of course, they would happily approve of her arrogant colleague, Dr. Mitch Kayne, whom Zhang was briefly involved with—much to her regret. However, when a quarrel with Lang leads to a severe-looking car crash, Zhang wakes up to find herself married to Kayne and the mother of a five-year-old son.

Much to her alarm, none of Zhang’s friends seem to remember Lang. Kayne’s creepy psychiatrist colleague diagnoses late-onset amnesia and prescribes some happy pills. Nevertheless, Zhang remains suspicious, especially when she uncovers traces of her life with Lang.

Given the warmth and vulnerability she exhibited in films like Hear Me and Ripples of Desire, USC alumnus Michelle Chen was a fitting choice to lead this American-Chinese co-production. She definitely has an appropriately intelligent presence for a driven doctor, even though the narrative often feels rather half-baked. Once again, Chen instantly claims viewers’ sympathies and credibly turns up the angst and pathos down the stretch. As Kayne, Sung Kang agilely turns on a dime, from a slimy jerkheel to an apparently caring husband and father. Frankly, he is a major reason why the film is able to keep the audience somewhat off-balance and not completely sure where it is all headed.

The problem is reality-bending films of this nature almost always end in one of two ways: either with a frustratingly Lynchian lack of resolution or an overly pat gimmick. Such is the case again with Pali Road, but at least the Hawaiian backdrops are lovely to look at. The work of Chen and Kang is also well worth watching, even when the bottom falls out of the third act. Recommended for Chen’s fans, Pali Road opens this Friday (4/26) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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