How much you’ll enjoy Kenneth Bi’s closing night gala film, Wish You Were Here, depends on your tolerance level for shiny-looking saccharine melodrama. Syrup this sweet is best reserved for pancakes, not a film that purportedly tries to deal with important social, class and gender issues.
Yuan Yuan is the hottest fashion designer in Beijing, an internationally recognized talent who puts on glamorous and lavishly artistic runway shows for the Chinese elite. Then one day, she encounters a young Japanese woman named Keiko, who has come to Beijing as a fashion design student hoping to meet her idol. In short order, Yuan Yuan realizes that Keiko is actually her daughter and through extended flashbacks, we discover the domestic life she used to lead as a young woman in small-town Japan, before she fled to pursue her dreams.
Bi initially approaches some crucial ideas about contemporary gender roles, as Yuan Yuan, faced with a grown daughter who she doesn’t really know, grapples with the ramifications of the decision to turn her back on the traditional role that was expected of her in order to live her own life. But as warm and expressive as lead actress Faye Yu (best known to North American audiences for her role as the younger version of Ying-Ying in The Joy Luck Club) is, these questions quickly get bogged down in a mess of contrived plotting and unearned emotional beats. By the time Yuan Yuan journeys back to the Japanese town from her past and reunites with her former husband, the film fully jumps the shark, plunging headfirst towards a ridiculous twist ending that throws the entire film’s message up in the air.
On the plus side, it’s a gorgeous film to look at – all the better to let your eyes glaze over.
- Release Date: 11/16/2018