Lost Indulgence (2008) Poster

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Slow paced, moody story of loss and love
rasecz29 April 2008
When a family man drives his taxi car into the Yangtze river and his body disappears, wife and teenager son are left to take care of an injured hooker that was riding the taxi at the time of the accident. The premise is strange for a western mind. I guess the Chinese culture has its traditional ways of dealing with tort.

How the threesome interrelate is what the film is about. There are a few additional ancillary characters that are necessary for us to better understand the three principals, but the attention is on the latter. The gradually changing relations are finely observed. The son's increasing fixation on the hooker. The mother's loss of control of a son that is coming of age. The hooker's experienced observation of the people around her. It's slow placed but almost never boring.

At the end, the so far moody treatment is upset by an attempt to resolve a minor mystery that by then had become superfluous. Poor idea. It would have been fine to leave it unresolved. The tightened narrative comes close to resorting to well-used formulas and breaking up its hard won spell. As we reach the closing scenes, the film regains its composure and only hints at a solution.

The director calls his style "poetic realism". A style that feels a little bit self-indulgent -- to take a hint from the title -- but in the sure hands of the director, it pulls us in close to the life, thoughts and feelings of the characters.

The gorgeous piano music composed for the film is a perfect accompaniment. The vocal piece apparently was an instant popular success in China a few years ago.

This is a second in a series of three filmed in the same city along the Yangtze river. The first was called "Curiosity Kills the Cat". The third should be released by 2009.
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Ke Jia meets Kar Wai.
Onderhond3 March 2009
One of the biggest upcoming art-house stars of China is without a doubt Yibai Zhang. With strong genre works like Curiosity Killed the Cat and the best entry in the About Love omnibus, his name is starting to spread around the globe. His latest outing is Lost Indulgence and shows yet again another side of Yibai's competence.

With Lost Indulgence Yibai travels to the Yang-Tse river and immediately enters the territory of fellow filmmaker Zhang Ke Jia, showing China as a mixture of old and new in a bleak, industrialized yet impressive landscape. But visually Zhang takes a different direction that is more reminiscent of Kar-wai's work, with rather dreamy camera-work and many shots where parts are hidden behind the scenery. And indeed, Lost Indulgence could've well been the result of a Ke Jia/Kar-wai collaboration.

Zhang's film is divided into several sections each introduced by a clay figure representing the happenings. Though most parts flow well together those intermissions also indicate the somewhat fragmented way of Zhang's main story arc. The film starts by introducing the characters but takes little time to arrive at a fatal accident catapulting a taxi driver and his client (a prostitute) into the Yang-Tse river.

While the taxi driver remains lost, the girl lands in the hospital and is taken care of by the family of the driver. When she finally moves in with them the film starts focusing on the relationship between the driver's son and the prostitute. A strange relationship that remains floating between friendship and physical attraction but never fully develops itself in either direction, leaving the two floating around each other.

Visually the film is impressive. Thumbs up for the strong, dreamy camera-work and some absolutely stellar shots of the surroundings. Nature and industry are often opposed in films but Zhang finds beauty in the combination of both. The best shots of the film are those of the characters set to their immense surroundings. Use of color is strong as ever but then again, this is a Chinese film.

The score is pretty subdued which is hardly strange for a drama like this, but from time to time Zhang lashes out with great effect. The scene filmed from behind the glasses or the manic dance scene belong to the best the film has to offer and underline the importance of a good musical score and what it can do to the atmosphere of a film.

Acting is very solid with a star role for Karen Mok as the prostitute and a solid little guest appearance for Eric Tsang. As the film progresses the relations between the parties become vaguer (yet somehow more human), but oddly enough the question of what exactly went on in the cab is not raised until the very end of the film. This keeps the interest of the audience growing without needing to touch on the actual subject, constantly undermining the relationship of the main characters.

The film remains somewhat vague, story-wise and character-wise, but manages to turn that into a positive feat. It is hard to get a good grip on the elements playing between the different characters but at the same time it all feels very natural and spontaneous. Add to that some lovely visuals, a strong score and some neat little touches to lighten up the atmosphere from time to time and what you have is quality drama, looking very good on Zhang's ever growing resume. 4.0*/5.0*
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One of those interesting artsy movies in which different individuals may see different things
harry_tk_yung10 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Picking up from my summary line, "Lost, indulgence" can be seen as: a coming of age story; a tale of a femme fatale of sorts; the awakening of a middle-aged mother; a suspense mystery; a slice of life in China's mega, mountainous city Chongqing; and perhaps more.

Unlike some art-house movies that have no story whatsoever, this one does have a plot, albeit a simple one. It opens with an accident, a cab plunging into the Yangtze, leaving the passenger, a beer girl ("the girl") with a seriously injured leg while the driver ("the father") is missing-presumed-dead. His wife ("the mother") wants to financially compensate the girl but, as the insurance money cannot be touched until 2 years after the accident (when a death report can be filed), she takes the girl into her humble household. Her teenage son ("the son") reacts with hostility to this stranger who is on the one hand a burden (someone in a wheelchair to be taken cared of), and on the other hand an additional mother figure (or at least an elder sister) breathing down his neck.

That is the main plot. There are additional characters and sub-plots to enrich the texture of the sketch – the boy's infatuation with a local young girl and the mother's encounter with a man, spelling romantic possibilities. More predominating is the gradual evolution of the boy's emotions toward the girl who, even in a wheel chair, is erotic allure personified – all part of his coming of age.

Except for the opening, this movie is not event-driven, but rather a pageantry of moods and nuances, making the characters progressively more interesting, and even intriguing. Tan Jian-Ci is convincing as the boy growing up through this rather traumatic experience. Jiang Wen-li did a marvellous job with character-development of the mother, starting with the simple woman who has just lost her husband and keep adding shades of subtleties until at the end, the complexity is almost awe-inspiring. Best of all is Karen Mok, whose sensual sophistication is effortless. It is when she depicts the innocent, childlike side of the character that we see how good Mok is.

I mention that this movie can be seen as a suspense mystery, an element which director Zhang Y--bai wisely underplays. It wasn't until very close to the end that this aspect surfaces, and the audience is suddenly reminded of the various tantalizingly suggestive one-liners throughout the movie. The ending is open to interpretation, inviting post-movie discussions of who knows what, and who doesn't, and how much etc. But as I said, all this is downplayed throughout most of the movie, so as not to distract the audiences' enjoyment of character development.

Among other things, this movie is a statement about a city and life in that city. This is director Zhang's forte. The city is Chongqing – a mega city rising up on hills on both sides of the Yangtze River, shrouded constantly in smog, rich with the pleasant assault of spicy flavour. The cinematography does convey the somewhat unorthodox fascination of the city. In sharp contrast to some movies that deliberately shun background music, this one uses it liberally – from shrill trumpet to heart-throbbing piano – to enhance the various moods, usually with good results.
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Slow Moving But Compelling
crossbow010622 May 2009
I watched this on a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand and was immediately struck by the contemplative, atmospheric quality given to the production. I like Karen Mok as an actress and she is able to stretch out here a bit. She plays Su Dan, a passenger in a taxi driven by veteran actor Eric Tsang (who is barely in this). The taxi veers out of control and goes into the river, which was considered a suicide for Mr. Tsang's character. Su Dan ends up with a compound leg fracture and is offered and accepts to stay with the wife of the cabbie and her son. There are tensions and its also a bit of a coming of age story. For once, Karen Mok is not just sexy eye candy and I liked her in this role, she did a good job. The story is simple and slow moving, but it has a sustainable rhythm that makes it worth watching. Not for fans of action or comedy, this drama is about real life, choices and secrets we keep. It is worth watching.
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Great indie film from the mainland
sitenoise1 February 2009
This should be the official submission from The People's Republic of China to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film. It seems like the kind of film Oscar would like but maybe it's not the kind of film China likes. It's part in-depth character study, part coming of age tale, part mystery, and it's a fascinating portrait of a city. Independent minded films like this that show life in mainland China as it is for what it is don't get produced too often in the mainland. It took director Zhang Yibai three tries to get permission from the China Film Bureau to release this to the International Film circuit.

Imagine Davenport, Iowa with a population of 31 million and covered in smog and you might have something close to Chongqing, China, the director's hometown and the setting for Lost, Indulgence. It's in the heartland of the mainland on a big river. It's dreary and foggy. And it looms heavily over the characters and their storied lives here.

The film begins with a taxi cab plunging into the Yangtze River. (Apparently there are folks who make a living fishing bodies out of the massive river. They have knowledge of the places a body is likely to end up. Relatives of the bodies bring photos and pay these people to be on the look out because life insurance monies can't be paid for two years unless there's a body.) The outcome of the crash sets the stage for the lives and relationships Zhang explores in the film as well as being the first clue to a mystery he lets percolate in the background for most of the movie. The driver of the cab is presumed dead but isn't immediately found. The passenger, a street wise bar girl played by the leggalicious Karen Mok, is rescued but badly injured. The wife of the driver feels it is her responsibility to care for the survivor. Unable to pay for hospital care she takes the woman into her home, a cramped little place accessed via a staircase at the back of some factory. The teenage son of the driver, refusing at first to accept that his father is dead, is not immediately happy sharing his space with the wheelchair bound newcomer nor is he excited by the burden of helping to care for her. But things change. Karen Mok's fashion choice of hot pants and lace stockings soon arouses feelings of interest from the boy. The mother is both unhappy and fearful of what the budding relationship may reveal.

As the boy begins to open up to the invalid he starts to wonder about her relationship to his father, the circumstances of the accident that left his father missing are seen in a new light. Director Zhang lets the mystery unfold delicately, in the background, without becoming the focus of the film. The spotlight remains on the characters' changing lives while the mystery remains as unsolved to us as it is unspoken among the characters. Lost Indulgence is a marvelous bit of story telling as well as an engaging slice of life. Pay attention to the photo on the wall of the father.
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A Fine Effort, Thanks To Its Picturesque Urban Setting, In Addition To A Well-Prepared Narrative
rsoonsa7 July 2013
From the very beginning of this stylish Chinese film, directed by Yibai Zhang, viewers are made aware of a mystery. However, while interplay between the principal characters develops, a notion may be formed that the significance of this mystery might well have been reduced by effective role creation. As action opens, a taxicab careers through a bordering fence and into the Yang-Tze River. The body of the driver, Wu Tao (Erik Tsang) can not be located, but his passenger is rescued, a young prostitute, Su-Dan (Karen Mok), who has been maimed by the crash. Although Su-Dan has an unpleasant disposition, the driver's widow, Li (Jiang Wenli,) offers the girl an opportunity, being a woman of an entirely different nature from that of Su-Dan, to share the home that she now keeps for her teenage son, as a type of moral obligation. The plot line exposes some unexpected facts about the characters in order for a viewer to solve the mentioned mystery, but most will not come readily to a decision, because of an increasingly trenchant development of several back stories that may or may not aid at finding a solution of the puzzle surrounding the crash. Due to rather opaque Chinese censorship issues, the work's premiere, scheduled twice to be shown in Hong Kong, where it was each time denied permission to screen, was instead initially offered at New York City's Tribeca Festival in 2008, receiving accolades. In truth, there is here more than enough substance within the narrative to garner the attention of most viewers. Dour bits of melodrama are customary elements for the films of Zhang, who goes in for stylistic methods that are of a piece with his camera technique steeped in symbolism. Cinematographer Wang Yu was furnished an ideal setting within the Central Chinese metropolis of Chungquing ("City of Fog") where its industrial riverscape provides an ideal backdrop for the director's masterful long shots, and fondness for ideographic imagery. Zhang's use of magic realism involving a framed photograph of the missing Wu Tao, placed upon the wall of his former residence, is certainly not the most engagingly subtle effort from the film's writer, Zhao Tianyu, but the remarkably lean dialogue and solidly constructed score have overlaid most flaws within this film that is superior to a majority of Chinese issued cinematic pieces.
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