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In Love We Trust

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/03/09 18:15:52

"The price of love."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“In Love We Trust” is set in China but could take place anywhere. This is the story of the modern family, simultaneously broken and united, and it presents a what-would-you-do? scenario that translates achingly well.

Mei Zhu (Liu Weiwei) and Xiao Lu (Zhang Jiayi) learn that their young daughter Hehe (Zhang Chuqian) will not live beyond a few more years without a bone marrow transplant. Neither the mother or father are compatible donors, and a third option arises: if Hehe had a sibling, umbilical blood could be used to save her life. Even with the ethical questions of creating one life to rescue another, it seems a simple enough solution - except the couple have been divorced for years, and both have remarried.

More complications abound. Xiao Lu’s young wife, Dong Fan (Yu Nan), has been pushing for children for two years, only to have her husband push back; they’re both far too busy with work, he argues, with no time for kids. Would it be fair to Dong Fan for Xiao Lu to agree to this plan? Would it be fair for Dong Fan to deny this option to young Hehe?

Mei Zhu, meanwhile, has also put off having children with her new husband, Xie (Cheng Taisheng). He, too, wants a kid of his own, but unlike the bitchy Dong Fan, Xie is a pushover. He would never outwardly deny his wife her wants, but on the inside, how devastating is it to him?

The film, written and directed by Wang Xiaoshuai (best known Stateside for “Beijing Bicycle”), never quite figures out how to handle its plot - the set-up is effectively moving, but later plot points are overly telegraphed and disappointingly predictable, and the whole thing stretches on a bit too long - but works wonders when pushing such things aside to simply study the characters as people. These are four extraordinary performances, delicate in their construction, honest in their execution, and we’re fascinated by how four such genuine people react to the problems that smother their every waking moment.

Watch, for example, how Xie handles himself around Xiao Lu, all smiles and friendliness and manners. If there is some sort of animosity or jealousy there, he’s working hard to hide it. But I’m not sure he feels that way. Instead, he’s trying his damnedest to go out of his way to show his wife’s ex that he really does like the guy. We can be friends, his attitude says, especially in a crisis like this. (We’ve already come to accept his soft - wimpy? - personality, thanks to early scenes where he gladly offers to finish up the dishes lest Mei Zhu have to deal with cold water.) The scenes between Cheng and Zhang reveal finely tuned character work, the harsh businessman and the soft family man coming to terms with each other.

As for Mei Zhu, she quickly becomes all too obsessed with this decision to have a baby. Her determinedness threatens to make her the film’s least interesting character - to her, there’s no inner conflict, just steely resolve - but Wang’s screenplay makes certain to keep her fascinating, if only to see how far she’s willing to go. By the finale, we wonder if she’s still keeping her daughter in mind, or if she’s instead become so overly focused on this one objective that she’s now doing it for herself.

There’s a melodramatic almost-twist we see coming three miles away, but Wang mercifully refuses to play it out the way we expect. He allows it to lead into a finale that offers one more ethical quandary for our characters, the resolution of which is a surprising decision from one of the leads that reveals more to that character’s mind than we had previously expected. The film’s original Chinese title translates to “Left Right,” which implies an ethical back-and-forth that dominates the characters’ lives, and captures our imaginations.

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