VIFF Film Review: 'Lost in Beijing'
What could induce a born and bred Vancouverite to remain indoors on a rare sunny day? Why, the Vancouver International Film Festival, of course. This annual event rolls into town for approximately two weeks in late September and early October, and lets audiences in the Lower Mainland experience non-mainstream films they would otherwise never get exposure to. Yesterday a friend and I willingly gave up 2.5 hours of sunshine and saw Lost in Beijing.
This film from China tells the story of a young woman, Liu Pingguo, who works in a foot massage parlour and is married to a window washer. When her coworker is fired, Pingguo drinks and commiserates with the coworker and returns to her workplace intoxicated, where one misunderstanding leads to another and she is sexually assaulted by her boss. At that exact moment, her husband happens to be washing the windows of the parlour, glimpses the two of them, and becomes enraged. His rage later turns to greed and revenge: he has an affair with the massage parlour owner's wife and tries to extort money from the wealthy man. Things take a complicated turn when both men discover that Liu Pingguo is pregnant and must decide what to do with the baby and how to resolve the emotional fallout from their affairs and deceptions.
At the Berlin film festival, Lost in Beijing garnered a lot of controversy for its content: scenes that involve a doctor being bribed, questionable morality being portrayed, and graphic sex scenes. I think this controversy over what essentially ended up as very minor points overshadowed how good the film was.
The Chinese title of Lost in Beijing is simply Pingguo, or "Apple," the name of the protagonist; it is one of those rare cases where the alternate title is more fitting than the real one. Beijing is portrayed as an immense city that is growing rapidly. The skyline has more than a few skyscrapers and construction cranes, cars zip along on the freeways, and the characters always seem to walk past a construction site. Part of this growth comes from immigrants from both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Pingguo, her husband, and her coworker are rural migrants who have come to the city to seek their fortune. In several scenes, the massage parlour owner and his wife speak fluent Cantonese together, revealing that they may be migrants from the south or from Hong Kong coming to the mainland to seek their fortune.
Urban sprawl, combined with migration, means that these people are indeed lost. They can lack moral direction. This is especially true of the men, and especially dangerous to the situation of women, who are revealed to have fewer alternatives. The wife of the businessman tells Pingguo this and advises her to prepare a way out when Pingguo is at her most vulnerable. The fate of Pingguo's fired coworker, whom the film suggests became a prostitute after she lost her job, serves as a somber warning of what can happen to the truly lost.
In the end, Pingguo seems to find a way out that neither compromises her future with her child or puts her at the mercy of either man. This film is so much more than the controversy, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to see it.
Posted by Lisa