Cast: Bo Huang, Lei Hao, Wei Zhao, Dawei Tong, Yi Zhang, Guoqiang Zhang.
Running Time: 128 minutes
Synopsis: A separated couple search for their missing son who was abducted in 2009.
Starting in 2009, Dearest tells a familiar tale in the realm of cinema, but it is a striking one that is international in its language; that of a missing child. Peter Chan’s powerful film may be shot and presented as a drama, but it has all the tension and suspense of a bonafide thriller. It’s this that makes it one the most emotional films of recent years, not in that it causes the tears to come streaming, but it makes you feel hatred, anger, remorse, and sympathy throughout its running time.
The screenplay, by Ji Zhang, is a rich and multilayered effort that swoops throughout the lives of the main characters, and even switches up where our attention should be focused. It makes for a finished product that is delightfully hard to pin down. Also under attack are current social and political ills in China, so to present such a universally emotionally resonant film against a backdrop of specified judicial woes is both clever and impressive. The opening which sees a young boy go missing builds tension without even trying. It just feels unsettling, but neither the editing nor the music is trying to lead us to feel the crushing sense of dread in our chest. It’s obvious that such a dense script is under control.
The film follows the boy’s father, Tian (Huang), as he searches for his son. He is constantly lead astray by conmen and women, to the point where elaborate traps are set up. These scenes are so painful to view, and we feel Tian’s frustration, but as he later notes, once the conmen stop calling his hope begins to die. It’s one of the many complex emotions we are faced with, with the most painful being another father who must register his missing son as dead if he wishes to obtain a license for having another child. These are heartbreaking moments, but we are also given a lot of hope.
Huang is terrific in the role, and plays off well against his estranged wife played by Hao. There relationship is well developed via visuals early on, as Tian runs his internet cafe down a hot and sweaty street overshadowed by wires, while his wife Lu is shopping in an upmarket bakery where a cake is shaped like a Chanel handbag. The two join a support group, which is where we are gifted with moments of warmth and kindness.
The last third of the film switches things dramatically, as we find ourselves following the wife of the son’s abductor, who has raised the boy not knowing he was taken from a loving family. Zhao plays Li on the brink of despicably naive, and genuine carer. It means you end up hating her, but also want to help her too. Chan is very careful not to make her a villain, and also show us just how many lives can be ruined by such a traumatic experience.
Dearest is impossible to forget, and whether its lingering quotes or pulse pounding scenes, your brain and heart will suffer from a right beating as you think about the events unfold. Sometimes it feels as though there may be too much going on; do we really need to see how Li’s lawyer homelife goes down? But even then it’s hardly enough to detract from such an ambitiously woven tale. This is a balanced , scathing, painful, but brilliant film. It gives us so many little moments to ponder over that I was left thankfully exhausted.