Bends (2013) — Image via facebook.com/bendsmovie

Bends

Directed by Flora Lau (2013)

Only a narrow river separates Hong Kong from the booming mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, but in Flora Lau’s Bends (Guo jie), this political, economic, and cultural boundary — easily crossed by some, impassable to others — takes on special significance. Lau’s first full-length film, which features a cast from both sides of the border and photography by veteran Hong Kong-based cinematographer Christopher Doyle, largely succeeds at giving viewers a sense of the contradictions and disorientation of life at the confluence of two rapidly changing communities.

Bends (2013) — Image via facebook.com/bendsmovieAt the beginning of the film, we meet Fai (Chen Kun), a Hong Kong citizen who lives in Shenzhen with his mainland Chinese wife Ting (Tian Yuan) and their daughter Haihai (Tu Jiamen). Ting is pregnant with the couple’s second child, which means they will face a steep fine under China’s strict family planning policy unless they can find a way for her to give birth in Hong Kong. While Fai pursues potential options for making this happen — such as pleading for help from an ex-lover who now works as head nurse at a Hong Kong hospital and betting on horses to try to raise money for a bribe — Ting hides out in their apartment to conceal her pregnancy, and Haihai is left with a babysitter under the pretense that her mother is visiting with her family in her home village.

Bends (2013) — Image via facebook.com/bendsmovieFai works in Hong Kong as chauffeur to high-society housewife Anna (Carina Lau), who emerges as the film’s other protagonist. One night, at a party, Anna’s husband Leo (Lawrence Cheng) is approached about a mysterious business deal, and the next day, he disappears. Anna soon finds that her credit cards have been cancelled and eventually learns that Leo has stopped paying their daughter’s boarding-school tuition and arranged to sell their apartment. Faced with these drastic and unexplained circumstances, Anna desperately tries to keep up appearances, finding inevitably temporary ways to continue to employ her staff, lunch with her friends, and indulge in luxuries like the services of a feng shui master. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Anna, Fai is selling off parts of her Mercedes and replacing them with cheap knockoffs in yet another of his schemes to raise money for his child’s birth in Hong Kong.

Bends (2013) — Image via facebook.com/bendsmovieBends benefits from its slow but steady pacing, beautiful cinematography, and understated rendering of what are ultimately two fairly dire personal crises. One occasionally wishes the director had fleshed out important characters such as Ting and Leo a bit more, but on the other hand, the film gains something unique from its laser focus on two people who spend so much of their time in each other’s company yet rarely communicate in any meaningful way. And Lau and Chen do an excellent job of portraying Anna’s increasingly untenable denial of what is happening to her and Fai’s pent-up (and occasionally explosive) frustration at his failure to find a solution to his and Ting’s problem.

The intersections between a comfortable class in decline and an aspirational class on the rise may seem like a recipe for tumultuous conflict, but Flora Lau seems to be more interested in how the representatives of these classes pass each other in the night on the way to their unknown, but likely very different, fates. Ultimately, Bends is a sensitively constructed, deceptively simple, and memorable contribution from a director whose development will be interesting to watch.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.