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Carina Lau has Hong Kong problems in Bends.
Chinese: 過界  
Year: 2013

Flora Lau

Producer: Nansun Shi, Yu Tsang, Melissa Lee, Ken Hui
Writer: Flora Lau

Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Aloys Chen, Tian Yuan, Stephanie Che Yuen-Yuen, Lawrence Cheng Tan-Shui, Elena Kong Mei-Yi, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Michelle Loo

The Skinny:

Thanks to a top-notch production team and a slot at the Cannes Film Festival, Flora Lau’s directorial debut comes with unrealistically high expectations. Bends is beautifully shot and deals with topical Hong Kong issues, but its cold approach and underplayed drama may be a turn off.

Kevin Ma:

Flora Lau is either the luckiest or the unluckiest filmmaker in Hong Kong. Her feature debut Bends attracted the participation of producer Nansun Shi (Tsui Hark’s longtime producer), cinematographer Christopher Doyle, as well as stars like Carina Lau and Aloys Chen. The film was also co-financed by Hong Kong government’s film subsidy, and is about topical Hong Kong issues that will be familiar to anyone who follows local news. This kind of pedigree for a debut work attracts scrutiny, especially when the film in question holds its world premiere as an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately, the buzz for Bends lifts expectations so unfairly high that there’s bound to be disappointment. If anything, it should be appreciated by local Hong Kongers for being a bona-fide Hong Kong film.

Based in Shenzhen, Fai (Aloys Chen) crosses the Hong Kong-Mainland China border every day to work as a chauffeur for socialite Anna (Carina Lau). Fai’s wife Tingting (Tian Yuan, Butterfly<) is pregnant with the couple’s second child – a no-no considering mainland China’s one-child policy. Unable to pay the hefty fine, Fai, who is already a permanent Hong Kong resident, needs to bring Tingting over the border to Hong Kong to give birth. It sounds easy, but the task is virtually impossible since the government has cracked down on cross-border births by limiting the number of non-residents in maternity wards and deploying additional border patrols.

Meanwhile, Anna is facing a crisis of her own. After a typical party at the residence, Anna’s businessman husband Leo (Lawrence Cheng) disappears without a trace. His office has been cleared out, credit cards have been cancelled and Anna is left to fend for herself. Anna tries to keep up appearances during Leo’s absence by paying for extravagant tea gatherings with her socialite friends while filling her home with Feng Shui accessories for good fortune. However, when Leo starts sending real estate agents to the home, Anna realizes that he may not be coming back after all.

With the help of Doyle on camera, Flora Lau has made an elegant-looking film using a modest budget. The film captures a quieter side of Hong Kong, using empty spaces (like hillside roads) to emphasize the isolation of the characters. The framing may even evoke comparisons to the veteran cinematographer’s work with Wong Kar-Wai, though Lau’s directorial style differs greatly from Wong’s. Unlike Doyle’s other 2013 effort, Peter Chan’s American Dreams in China, Bends’s visual palate appears to have benefitted greatly from an experienced cinematographer like Doyle behind the camera.

However, the visuals aren’t enough to compensate for the flaws in the script. Bends succeeds at putting a human face on controversial social topics. The debate over mainland Chinese mothers giving birth in Hong Kong has been filled with so much inflammatory rhetoric from both sides that the film’s sympathetic approach to the topic feels refreshing. However, the script doesn’t lend the same depth to the relationship between Anna and Fai. The two spend most of the film apart in their respective subplots except for one subtle emotional moment about an hour in. Lau clearly intends for the two characters to remain in their respective worlds until they finally clash at the end, but the result is a film that feels dramatically undercooked, especially when the ending needs that connection to have a real impact.

At times, Lau’s direction also feels intentionally detached, a choice that will leave some audiences cold. She demands that the audience work to find a connection, which doesn’t always prove successful. Bends will ultimately divide audiences, but there’s no doubt that it still has merits. The film features a strong performance from Carina Lau and exceptional cinematography from Christopher Doyle, and its story offers an unusually balanced approach to a controversial topic. A breath of fresh air from Hong Kong’s usual hyper-commercial films, Bends is certainly worth a look. What you’ll get from it is a different story. (Kevin Ma, reviewed at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, 5/2013)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
CN Entertainment Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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