Lost in Beijing Movie Review
The two couples who make up the majority of this tight-knit film are hardly the kind of entrepreneurs the Chinese government would want to present as the face of the new China. Dong (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) runs a quite successful massage parlor and has a regular assignation with a prostitute while his wife Wang-mei (Elaine Jin) sulks in her splendidly appointed apartment. Ping-guo (Fan Bingbing) works at Dong's parlor as a masseuse; she and her high-rise window-washer husband An-kun (Tong Da Wei) share a grim hole of an apartment that seems par for the course in Beijing. Ping-guo and An-kun seem poor but at least happy with each other; a state of existence that's abruptly shattered when An-kun, after staying out drinking with a friend, stumbles back to the massage parlor and passes out only to wake up and find herself being raped by Dong.
Which is where writers Fang Li (also the producer) and Li Yu (also the director) take things off the deep end. Not only is An-kun raped by her boss, but her husband Ping-guo, who just so happens to be washing the windows at the massage parlor that day, looks in and sees what has happened. It's a coincidence that in surer hands would have then led to either tragedy or farce -- nothing else would quite seem sensible after such a ludicrous happening -- but in this case turns more into sheer melodrama with pretensions of something grander; a Lifetime movie for the disaffected. A pregnancy follows, along with recriminations, grand schemes, revenge affairs, and so on down through the list of easy narrative twists until few are left.
Li has a fine hand on her material, in terms of direction. The look is sleek and brightly-hued, as befits the roaringly modern city that dwarfs these people: Beijing is all skyscrapers and highways, looking like a scrubbed-clean version of Los Angeles. Her camera has a jabbing voyeurism to it that's perfect for the just slightly tawdry material, and the acting (particularly by the most veteran of the bunch, Tony Leung Ka Fai) is generally naturalistic enough to keep the story's weaker points from showing too dramatically. With its brisk international style, Lost in Beijing looks like it could have been shot by any talented film school graduate from almost anywhere, which is probably the point. But unfortunately with each new twist in the story (now the blackmail attempt, and now the tearful accusation), whatever meaning the film might have had about China's disaffected, new striving capitalists, lost in the chaos and clutter, drains out even faster.
Aka Pin guo.
I may be lost, but I found this money.