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Bends
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by Jay Seaver

"What people get when they're under pressure."
5 stars

Half of this movie could happen anywhere, and "Bends" is hardly the first quiet, thoughtful film to look at an economic downturn from the point of view of a wife taking prosperity for granted. The other half is what sets it apart; as near as I can tell, it can really only take place on the border of Shenzen and Hong Kong, although it should translate to most audiences.

Fai (Chen Kun) is a Hong Kong citizen, but he lives on the Mainland side of the border with his wife Tingting (Tian Yuan) and daughter Hoi Hoi. Tingting is pregnant with their second child, which means hiding her in the apartment while saying she is away visiting relatives, lest they get slapped with a huge fine for breaking the one child per family law. There are ways around it, such as to give birth in Hong Kong, but they are tightly regulated. Fai is working to solve that issue, but despite spending his days in the former colony as the personal driver to Anna Li (Carina Lau Ka-long), he's not having much luck. Mrs. Li, meanwhile, is feeling pressure of her own, with her wealthy husband's time away growing longer and a refused credit card just the first sign that his business may be a house of cards.

Writer/director Flora Lau starts things off with Fai's story, and it's kind of a brilliant job of setting the mood, just on the other side of playful as Hoi Hoi almost gives the game away, but planting the idea early that trying to live life in a manner that many might find normal and reasonable might lead to ruin. That's a vice she figures to tighten on both sides of the border, bit by bit, as the movie goes on, and it's impressive how plainly she lays the situation out while leaving herself room to maneuver.

She sets the stage visually as well, with Fai's world being one of concrete courtyards and right angles while Mrs. Li always seems to be in an airy, open space to start. It's good-looking in general, with famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle behind the camera, with perfect and often striking lighting and a soft focus to scenes of the countryside that I suspect would look even better if this was projected from film. The use of color is excellent, too, especially considering that purple winds up being such a dominant color, and it's not the easiest to work with.

That's the color Mrs. Li's feng shui consultant tells her to wear, which she does because it's not like she has a whole lot of other options in terms of taking control of her situation. Carina Lau captures Anna Li's situation perfectly, so that she never comes across as an empty-headed trophy wife, although there is something beautiful in her dawning recognition that she has allowed her life to become dominated by trivia and appearances, and that circumstances may well force her to change her ways. Her growing steeliness is reflected by Fai's increasing panic, with Chen Kun doing a fine job of drawing a great line between Fai as a devoted father and how his desperation to be that leads him to the sort of actions that clearly don't come naturally to him. Tian Yuan doesn't have as large a part as Tingting, but she sells the paranoia and cabin fever that must grip a woman in this situation perfectly.

Flora Lau puts it all together as writer, director, and editor, and while she derives a lot of tension from the inevitability of her characters' predicaments - no matter how unprepared they may be, Tingting is going to give birth and Anna's money is going to run out - what's perhaps most impressive is how she takes these simple stories and demonstrates how they seem to lead to levels of deception: There's a whole gray economy built around having one's babies born in Hong Kong, for example, and it often seems as though everybody - whether Fai, Anna, or her husband Leo - has a first reaction of hollowing things out (sometimes literally) rather than breaking through appearances and attacking a problem directly, a strategy that is perhaps justified as the conversations of Mrs. Li's friends and the way the camera captures the world around Tingting makes her paranoia much more real. It's elegant, though, a motif the audience can't help but notice as opposed to confusion complications to a simple plot.

It's an elegant movie all around, taking a close look at simple situations with the sort of interesting details that prevent things from feeling simplistic. That makes for a compact but intriguing movie that seems to cover a whole lot of grounds despite its tightly controlled perspective.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25112&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/15/14 01:55:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Cannes Film Festival For more in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Miami International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Miami International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Flora Lau

Written by
  Flora Lau

Cast
  Kun Chen
  Carina Lau
  Yuan Tian



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