Lost, Found

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/16/18 12:57:27

"Missing kid and focus."
3 stars (Average)

Though the listings suggest that "Lost, Found" is a drama built around divorce, it's actually a thriller that becomes a social-justice story, and it's just as confused as it sounds. It plays like the filmmakers only realized who the interesting characters were halfway through and had a heck of a time giving them the focus they deserved while also making the film they originally set out to make.

That would be a movie about successful lawyer Li Jie (Yao Chen), who came home from court and a work outing to find her daughter Duoduo and nanny Sun Fang (Ma Yili) have vanished. Divorced and in the middle of a custody fight, the irony is that she spent the day representing a husband who is trying to gain sole custody of his own child from a desperate mother and has taught junior associates that physical possession of the children creates leverage. That doesn't seem to be the case here, though - ex-husband Tian Ning (Mickey Yuan Wenkang) and his mother seem just as panicked as Jie, and it quickly becomes clear that she didn't know nearly enough about Sun Fang when hiring her.

The audience sees this unfold from Jie's perspective, and told that way, Lost, Found is a mystery story. It's not a particularly well-built one, unfortunately; writer Qin Haiyan throws the audience a bunch of red herrings early on but never actually uses them to deflect suspicion or misdirect for very long. That Jie will be victimized by things akin to her own aggressions and privilege is good material, but few threads actually come back to her, and other things are dismissed, little more than a momentary jolt. It works as well as it does because Yao Chen is fully committed to her part, never faltering as the career woman run ragged and plunged deeper into horror. She does a good job of landing on the spot where Li Jie can seem kind of callous but not actually cruel enough for this to play as some sort of comeuppance in flashbacks, with her harried moment of weakness that leads to hiring Sun Fang feeling different than the present-day parts of the movie, where a too-wide smile contorts into anguish and her determination becomes frightening.

Still, the building blocks of a mystery exist in large part to lead Li Jie to the truth about her nanny, and Sun Fang's story often seems more urgent and worth examining. Her life is not just necessarily tragic but resolutely so, equal parts broken systems and bad decisions (and what seems like the first not providing any cushion for the second), and actress Ma Yili moves through the film like she's been pummeled by it. The hair/makeup/costume crew do a lot to contrast her with Yao's Jie visually, but Ma ensures that the audience can feel just how much she has absorbed and has become numbed, the one good thing in her life something she desperately needs to hold onto even if she has already snapped. There's a fine performance there but it never gets to be at the center as it should be. The story of how her situation leads this woman to desperation never escapes from its positioning as a subplot in a rich woman's story.

Unfortunately, neither story is parceled out well; too much is held back for unneeded suspense and the jumping around on the timeline does the impact of what Fang is doing at any particular point no favors. The same is true for Li Jie's side, though to a lesser extent; starting with her trying to retrieve her ransomed daughter mostly winds up meaning that the audience spends fifteen minutes or so waiting for the film to catch up with itself. The consistent if achronological focus on Jie and Fang also means that other aspects and characters are neglected, from a victim-blaming cop who becomes bland later on to Tian Ning being something of a non-entity throughout most of the movie, or Sun Fang having two very interchangeable gangsters in her life.

There are still flashes when the audience can see the pieces of a fine thriller coming together, enough to appreciate what the filmmakers do right as much as how they sometimes fall short. The world Fang comes from seems genuinely oppressive, with impossibly small apartments and mean roommates a questionable step up from a village that has become all but uninhabitable, while Jie's combination of entitlement and desperation makes scenes of digging through surveillance video a much less dry affair than usual. The process that leads to the climax is impressively dumb, but the chase and confrontation crackles in a way that fancier ones often don't. The resolution after that is kind of a let-down - it feels like the filmmakers trying too hard to please the Chinese censor board and pushing a moral that seems too pat for the film's more jaded view of the world - but not to the point where it entirely undoes what led up to it.

That's not a ringing endorsement, and I think that even someone expecting a missing-kid movie rather than a fighting-parents one will find it just about average. There's worse things to be, but also the potential for much more.

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