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Rest on Your Shoulder
Rest on Your Shoulder

Jiang Yiyan and Aloys Chen in Rest on Your Shoulder.
Chinese: 肩上蝶  
Year: 2011  
Director: Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung  
  Producer: Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung, Huang Jianxin
  Writer: Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung, Polly Yeung, Fu Yu-Tian (original story)
  Cast: Aloys Chen, Jiang Yiyan, Gigi Leung Wing-Kei, Guey Lun-Mei, Hui Siu-Hung
  The Skinny: Great scenery and pretty actors make Rest on Your Shoulder attractive, but the overlong running time and overstuffed story don't. Jacob Cheung has made a sincere, well-meaning film so it's unfortunate that it doesn't really make that much sense. Kids may like the talking insects.
by Kozo:

Man, Rest on Your Shoulder is one strange movie. A combination of family fantasy, cautionary environmental tale, pandemic thriller and harem romance, this bizarre concoction alternately charms and alienates. Director Jacob Cheung shows care and thought, and his characters and situations do manage some positive emotions. Also, the film's colors and locations are brilliant, the music (by Ghibli ace Joe Hisaishi) soars, and the actors are easy on the eyes. These superficial positives help make up for the film’s story, which is overstuffed, often meanders and ultimately lacks sense. It’s easy to like Rest on Your Shoulder because it’s so pretty, sincere and well-meaning. But calling it good? Not quite as easy.

Rest on Your Shoulder takes place on fictional Moon Island in an unspecified future time where disease runs unchecked. Super-handsome botanist Yan Guo (Aloys Chen) researches rare flowers in order to find a cure to some unnamed disease. He plants a rare purple orchid with his spritely fiancé Baobao (Jiang Yiyan) beneath the watchful branches of a local tree, known to the Moon Islanders as the Eros Tree. If the plant blossoms it’s supposed to affirm their love, and blossom it does – except afterwards Yan Guo falls ill to an unnamed epidemic. Distraught, Baobao makes another wish under the Eros Tree: she wants Yan Guo to live. A blue glowing fairy appears to grant her wish, but in exchange, Baobao cannot see Yan Guo for three years.

Scratch that, it’s Yan Guo who can’t see her – at least, not in her current form. Baobao is allowed to remain near Yan Guo, but in the form of a white-winged butterfly. She agrees, life goes on, and soon comes the danger of Yan Guo moving on to other women. He’s certainly got options: his student Bailan (Guey Lun-Mei) and reporter Yang Lin (Gigi Leung) are both viable candidates for Yan Guo’s rebound romance, but the film never seems to threaten a love triangle or other geometric shape. The girls nevertheless swoon over Yan Guo (duh, it's Aloys Chen), while Baobao the butterfly flutters nearby sans jealousy, remaining mostly content to watch over Yan Guo and occasionally (yep) rest on his shoulder. Of bigger concern is Yan Guo's research. He's trying to save lives, and thinks that if he can discover a cure, Baobao may return from wherever she disappeared to.

What prompts Yan Guo to believe in Baobao's return is an internalized connection Yan Guo makes between the couple's planting of the rare orchid, and how at the time he was more concerned about his research. If you think about it, that makes zero narrative sense, but the film sells that as Yan Guo's faithful rationale, which keeps him from chasing either the petulant and attractive Bailan or the elegant and intelligent Yang Lin. Meanwhile, the still spritely Baobao gets involved in insect affairs. There's a subplot involving insects distrusting humans, and also distrusting other insects that trust humans. Ergo, Baobao becomes an insect pariah – but it's all good, as long as she can weather the three years and return to Yan Guo's side. As an insect, she still tries to help Yan Guo, leading to some self-sacrifice and the occasional scene of Yan Guo worrying about where his butterfly ran off to. Then, everything reaches a head.

Or maybe it doesn’t. The film does seem to head into climax mode when hazard suit-wearing government officials show up to evacuate Moon Island, but even then things don’t coalesce as they should. At the end, the film concerns itself with Yan Guo’s research, Yang Lin’s health, her reporter duties, the island’s evacuation, Baobao’s quest for a rare flower, and also the love life of a couple of Baobao's butterfly friends. Someone draw up an infographic for this! There’s simply way too much going on in Rest On Your Shoulder, with stuff resolved through dialogue, through metaphor, through animation and even not at all. Ultimately there's a conclusion, but the lessons (aside from the obvious environmental ones) are simple ones. Grow up, move on, stay positive, stay faithful, be nice, be tolerant and probably don’t waste paper – these are the myriad lessons of Rest On Your Shoulder. I learned all this in kindergarten. How about you?

Rest On Your Shoulder may be best for kids, as its talking insects and competent CGI would speak to them the most. Adults can enjoy the beautiful scenery (shot in Japan and China), made even more beautiful via composite effects that are fake but effective. There's really no problem with the actors, whose performances are guileless if not noteworthy. What no one will enjoy: the long running time, which stretches what should be a simple family fable into an over-two-hours marathon. Why Jacob Cheung chose develop his film this way is anyone’s guess, though one can easily see that these are ideas and emotions that he cares about. Rest On Your Shoulder is not one for hire, nor is it cynical regurgitation – it’s a film that intends to say something sincerely, hopefully and with heart. As such, it's hard to knock Cheung's effort, even if he doesn't really succeed. (Kozo, 2011)

  Availability: DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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