Sorry I haven’t been posting lately – I’ve been quite busy, so I haven’t had much time to write, but thankfully, things have slowed down this weekend, giving me an opportunity to finally blog.
I know I started a summer series dedicated to reviewing this season’s most anticipated films, but I want to take a temporary detour and write about a compelling 2014 Chinese film I watched on Netflix: Dearest.
Dearest has been on my to-watch list for a while now because it features an incredible cast and has a high rating on Douban, China’s equivalent of Rotten Tomatoes. The movie also made headlines in China upon its release because of its provocative content, so I’ve always been interested in seeing this film.
Based on one of China’s highly publicized child abduction cases, Dearest begins by introducing its audience to a small shop owner in Shenzhen, Tian Wenjun (Huang Bo). He has just divorced his wife Lu Xiaojian (Hao Lei), who despises his unsophisticated, countrified persona and has left him for a wealthier man. Despite their resentment towards one another, they try their best to maintain a civil relationship in front of their three-year-old son Pengpeng. But when Pengpeng suddenly goes missing, Wenjun and Xiaojian are forced to put their differences aside to find their child.
Based on the synopsis, Dearest might sound like a thriller complete with dramatic chase scenes and an emotional ending where the child is found alive or dead. At least that’s what I thought when I read the various synopses online, which, like the one I wrote above, all seem to suggest the story is primarily about finding Pengpeng. But in actuality, *plot spoiler* Pengpeng is found halfway through the movie and reunited with his parents, and it’s after his case is closed that the movie takes a sharp turn, introducing not only its two remaining leads Li Hongqin (Zhao Wei) and Gao Xia (Tong Da Wei), but also a series of moral conundrums that make this movie an intriguingly complex melodrama. Is the person made to be the “villain” in this case truly a villain, and are the only “victims” the child and his biological parents? As each character’s backstory unfurls, the black and white world present at the start of the movie suddenly becomes very gray.
Dearest also casts a critical light on many of China’s controversial issues, presenting a discomforting image of contemporary China. Issues such as preference for sons over daughters and tensions between the different socioeconomic classes are skillfully integrated into the plot and examined, and one particularly poignant moment in the film serves a powerful attack against the one-child policy. I often wonder how this film passed censorship because it touches on so many sensitive issues. Perhaps its approval is a hopeful indication the Chinese government recognizes these problems and will implement some positive changes. After all, the one-child policy was repealed a year after the film was released – maybe Dearest passed censorship because change was already in progress.
Dearest’s compelling and complex story becomes a vivid viewing experience under the direction of the talented Peter Chan (American Dreams in China, Perhaps Love), who uses each frame to heighten the emotional intensity of the film. Outstanding performances from Zhao Wei and Huang Bo also make Dearest a powerful film that will continue to resonate with viewers long after the credits stop rolling.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: Dearest (亲爱的)
Director: Peter Chan
Writer: Zhang Ji
Cast: Zhao Wei, Huang Bo, Tong Da Wei, Hao Lei, Zhang Yi, Zhang Yuqi
Run Time: 2 hr 8 min