Lost And Found (1996)
produced & directed by: Lee Chi-Ngai
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1997:
Lam (Kelly Chen from Anna Magdalena) bumps into That Worm (Takeshi Kaneshiro who plays a man of Mongolian descent. His name translates to That Worm in Cantonese) on the street and he turns out to be the man she's looking for. The man who can help her find someone she lost. That Worm runs a Lost and Found business and Lam is looking for Scottish sailor Ted (Michael Wong from Beast Cops). In a flashback we see Lam being diagnosed with leukemia and how she later experiences something magical meeting Ted at her dad's shipping company. First she doubts that the slightly eccentric That Worm can achieve anything but soon the two catches up with Ted who is about to go back to Scotland. Lam decides to stay in Hong Kong for a little while more before going on the journey that will take her to the edge of the world (as Ted describes a particular place in the highlands). She continues to stay with That Worm and work for his business. Working along side him she gets to experience the magic of regaining hope...
Lee Chi-Ngai have been lurking in the background, writing for a few Peter Chan directed projects and occasionally directing himself at UFO productions (which this also is) with moderate success critically. Yet he's one of those filmmakers no one really discovers unless they're fans of a particular actor or actress, in this case Takeshi Kaneshiro or Kelly Chen. Writer/producer/director Lee chooses to add another movie to a genre some call 'terminal beauty' (i.e. it features a dying character, preferably a woman). Good thing is that among the movies out of that 'genre' that I've seen (such as C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri), all have been of high quality. Lost And Found is no different despite having one of Hong Kong cinemas lesser talents in it.
These type of dramas doesn't have a lot of room for originality because the themes and the outcomes remain similar between the films. When you can't bring something new to the table then the writer, in this case also the director, have to put huge strength in the presentation of themes in order to achieve something regarded as meaningful. That must've been Lee Chi Ngai's mantra and he's created a, actually, life-affirming film. He presents a content that he could've steered in any direction emotionally. What he does is to focus on the positive aspects of trying and that is the crucial theme, primarily seen in Kelly and Takeshi's characters.
By choosing positivity, Lost And Found becomes subdued and almost mellow, which I didn't expect. To go the highly emotional route has it's place in drama cinema but it's more challenging to lessen that tone and making the audience focusing on connecting with your characters. To see them in tears can be an easier way to bring out the sympathy but I enjoy the kind of writing that spends time with people and slowly reveals their respective arcs, right up till the end. Director Lee Chi Ngai does just that and step by step his film grows into something beautiful. Even unexpected is a word that can be applied, especially when it comes to the choices characters make.
Looking for a moment at the character of Lam, played by Kelly Chen, that isn't nursed back to health by That Worm but discovers that being hopeful isn't naive in today's world (or the world of 1996). She profiles him as a loner with only his Lost And Found company to rely on. What she doesn't realize is that there lies much worth in putting in huge effort to give back hope to those who have lost. That Worm talks about that it doesn't matter the worth of what's lost, it can affect greatly anyway. If that asset seems rare, it's because it is. What better way to try and promote that than through moving images. Her meeting with Worm is all because what happens prior, seen in a flashback, namely the meeting with Ted. He's played by Hong Kong cinemas most bland actor. The one, the only Michael Wong. The credibility of the movie hinges quite a bit on the relationship between Lam and Ted and during my viewing I questioned the reason for her attraction, or rather the lack of explanation for it, to Ted. One theory of Lee Chi Ngai's probably is that she, without being able to explain, sees someone who can make her life magic again (watch out for the visions she has of him performing circus tricks. One of the odder sequences of the film) and that does work when looking at Kelly's acting. The problem that I have lies with Michael Wong and in his hands, the character isn't brought to the screen as much as the script demands. That he freely flip flops between Cantonese and English makes sense for the character and that there's not even a hint of Scottish accent in him I can live with. Bland acting, I can not and even if Michael displays moments of sincerity in his performance, Lost And Found has its weakness in him. It's adequately written but not performed. In the end, when Lee's message has come through, it's not a performance that will bring the movie down. It has far too many strengths that outpowers the weaknesses.
A device used frequently in the movie is the voice-over by Kelly Chen's character. The usage of it is somewhat of a miscalculation on director Lee's behalf. It's just too much of it employed throughout. In certain scenes she's almost offering running commentary and in others the unsaid would've worked just as well. It's a welcome element though and Kelly's soothing voice transforms other scenes into wonderful cinema.
Bill Wong (Rouge) is Lee Chi Ngai's director of photography and his cinematography goes hand in hand with the mellow atmosphere of the film. The opening black & white sequence nicely captures the different vibes Hong Kong radiates, both the tempting but also the dirty type. In other words, a city that undoubtedly has much in it and I think Lee's intentions was to capture the real world where people are lost, found and loved in. Later where we follow Kelly and Takeshi around the moist, tight urban Hong Kong, it's clear that a natural look was planned out for Lost And Found. The straightforward camera language, with hints of a documentary style in between, uses the city basically, whether bright or in darkness. As much light as needed is rigged up but it looks like Bill emphasized the use of natural lighting more, something I connect to more when studying the look of a film. Part of the movie takes place on location in Scotland and combining traditional Scottish music and the beautiful highlands makes for some stunning imagery in that section of the film. Also creating suitable mood throughout is the use of the Leonard Cohen song 'Dance Me To The End Of Love'.
Kelly Chen divides her time between a singing career and movies (like many 'stars' in Hong Kong nowadays). I don't see her developing character acting skills to an extremely high degree in the next few years but she has provided fine turns in Lavender for instance. She portrays Lam as a bit judgmental and arrogant but she is one that has to try and face life again, that hurdle can bring out the worst side of you. It's quite a journey Lam takes and Kelly effectively brings the audience with her through her performance. I've seen Kelly act alongside Takeshi Kaneshiro three times now, each time in dramas and each time they've displayed very nice on-screen chemistry. Takeshi is a wonderfully expressive actor and especially good at talking to the audience with his face, not just his eyes. That Worm is not a man who is easily robbed off his enthusiasm and even confronted with negative remarks makes his upbeat self a defensive tool. The latter produces the naivety Lam remarks upon though. Despite that, he is a character filled with love for people and his Lost And Found company is the manifestation of that. Jordan Chan appears in a touching cameo as well as Cheung Tat Ming and Maria Cordero.
This particular genre hasn't exhausted itself and those trying it on seems to be putting in genuine effort. C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri may be the best example but Lost And Found can proudly stand next to Derek Yee's film.
The movie deserves better than this but this early Mei Ah disc will do for the moment. Colours are not half bad but overall it's a slightly muddled palette presented here. Now and then heavier print damage appears. It's framed at 1.85:1.
The Cantonese 2.0 track has channel separation when it comes to music and handles that ok. It sounds rather thin even that but dialogue (which the movie has a lot of) is presented nicely. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
Taken from a theatrical print means burned in subtitles but besides a few spelling mistakes they are excellent and readable all throughout the movie. No extras, no menu, no nothing. Just the movie, which will do.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson