LOST, FOUND (2018) review

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Lv Yue’s Lost, Found is a Chinese take on Hong Eun-mi’s script to the 2016 thriller Missing Woman, directed by Lee Eon-hie. As explained in Derek Elley’s review of the film, the rights to the script were bought before the South-Korean version was even shot – and thus it is not a remake per se. It follows Li Jie (Yao Chen), a ruthless lawyer who has little time for her two-year-old daughter Duo Duo, but is nevertheless fighting for her custody in the aftermath of a divorce from Tian Ning (Yuan Wenkuang). But one day, Duo Duo goes missing, and Li Jie is convinced that she’s been kidnapped by her nanny Sun Fang (Ma Yili), a self-effacing country girl. Increasingly desperate as the police’s chances to find her daughter dwindle by the hour, Li Jie goes on a frantic search for clues as to Sun Fang’s whereabouts, discovering her painful, storied past in the process.

For its first forty-five minutes, Lost, Found unfolds as an efficient, gripping kidnap thriller, though one without anything new to offer. Briefly non-linear, it introduces the stakes in a raw, hair-raising way, as Li Jie is shown running to a row of trash bins in a tunnel and frenziedly looking for her daughter among the garbage. Then context is given through small jumps back and forth in time, as we witness the police’s handling of Li’s abduction claim, her life as a lawyer (with a slightly rote “look how ruthless she is” episode that’s reminiscent of just too many films across several genres), her expectedly strained relationship with her ex-husband and his mother, and the circumstances of her hiring the seemingly selfless and kind Sun Fang, as well as the nature of her relationship with her, a mix of condescending affection, scarce gratitude, and condescension often mixed with a dash of oblivious contempt. An all-too-ordinary encapsulation of class divide, it doesn’t reduce the sympathy one feels for Li Jie – she’s still a mother whose child has been abducted – but it doubles her desperate search with a compelling undercurrent of introspection, as Li’s ordeal is laced with deep personal humbling.

Then in the film’s second half, the focus shifts seamlessly to Sun Fang: through Li Jie’s urgent investigation, we come to realize the full extent of Sun’s plight. Despite a clever red herring early in the film, it’s never really in doubt that Sun abducted Li’s daughter, but through the gut-wrenching tableau of her life, painted through flashbacks, Lv Yue’s film manages the arduous feat of making us care for the kidnapper, a victim of injustice from both society and fate. Unsurprisingly, this is a film about the loss of hope, an equalizer that cruelly brings together beyond the aforementioned class divide. Those heavy considerations, however, never derail the film’s gripping, ticking-clock entertainment value, not vice-versa. Only a few crying sequences – all deeply-felt but rendered less impactful by a thudding juxtaposition – and a clumsy coda that heavy-handedly spells out the film’s message while tying up loose ends that didn’t matter in the first place, are lapses in Lv Yue’s firm directorial judgement.

But in the end, Lost, Found impresses most as a showcase for two superb actresses. Despite a more then enviable career, Yao Chen has often been relegated to decorative supporting roles, or to lead roles in fluffy romantic comedies and dramas. Here, she gets to sink her teeth in a compelling, contrasted role, and she impresses, especially int he final reel when her performance reaches raw, gut-wrenching heights. She is more than well-matched by Ma Yili, a TV star whose big screen career has been unimpressive so far (remember her as the wife of Aaron Kwok’s character in the Cold War films? Neither do I), but who brings to life an indelible character with a mastery that doesn’t pale next to the Zhou Xun’s and Gong Li’s of the industry.

Long Story Short: A gripping, gut-wrenching kidnap thriller, Lost, Found is also a fine showcase for two impressive actresses, Yao Chen and Ma Yili. ****

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