Lilting Movie Review
With his first feature, British filmmaker Hong Khaou tells a beautifully balanced story that somehow manages to be hugely emotional without ever tipping over into sentimentality. It's a remarkable little drama with bracingly strong performances and a constant flow of telling insights about relationships and culture. And without ever turning maudlin, it offers a hopeful look at grief that's unforgettable.
Ben Whishaw stars as Richard, who is still struggling with the recent accidental death of his boyfriend Kai (Andrew Leung). Kai's mother Junn (Cheng Pei-pei) is in a nursing home, feeling trapped because she never learned English, so Richard decides to reach out to her, even though she never liked him. He hires an interpreter (Naomi Christie) to help them communicate, and also to help Junn talk to Alan (Peter Bowles), a man she's been flirting with in the home. But Richard also wants to respect Kai's decision never to come out as gay to his mother, and this is a secret Richard may have trouble keeping as he begins to get to know her.
Essentially a story about two extremely different people trying to find a way to connect with each other, this film is enriched by its vividly authentic observations about immigrants and gays, two groups that are often isolated from mainstream culture. The only real connection between Richard and Junn is Kai, who is seen in seamless flashbacks that emerge straight from scenes in ways that evoke the immediacy of memories with a mix of humour, sensuality and pain. All of this comes into fine focus whenever Richard and Junn meet, especially as their interaction is played without the ability to engage in easy conversation due to the language divide. Whishaw and Cheng offer such transparent, emotionally raw performances that it's impossible not to feel every moment vividly.
Thankfully, Khaou directs all of this with a light touch that fills the screen with hope. There's also plenty of real-life humour and spark along the way, mostly in the hilarious scenes between Junn and Alan, which never go as expected. And it's fluidly photographed and edited to carry the audience straight to the heart of the matter, the point where people realise that interacting honestly with other people is the only way to move forward in life. It's a rare movie that's truthful from start to finish, drawing viewers into a story that's so resonant that it changes the way we see the world around us. Quite simply, this is a staggeringly beautiful story from a filmmaker to watch.
Cast & Crew
Director : Hong Khaou
Producer : Dominic Buchanan
Screenwriter : Hong Khaou
Starring : Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei-pei, Andrew Leung, Naomi Christie, Peter Bowles, Morven Christie, Peter Hopkins, John Matthews