It is estimated that roughly 70,000 children are kidnapped in China every year. Human traffickers snatch children from their homes and off the street to sell for foreign adoption, and often to domestic Chinese families desperate to have a child that they have been unable to produce themselves. Partially inspired by a true story, Peng Sanyuan’s 2015 drama Lost and Love follows obsessed middle-aged man Lei Zekuan (Andy Lau) as he fruitlessly travels China in a search for his son – who was taken from him 17 years earlier. At one stage he describes his search as ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’. With one missing child to find among 1.3 billion Chinese people, I feel he may have understated the futility of his quest.
Lost and Love is essentially a road movie. Early into the story a truck collides with Zekuan’s motorcycle, knocking him unconscious. When he wakes, a 19 year-old mechanic is repairing his bike for him. They get to talking. The young man, Zeng Shuai (Jing Boran), explains that he is an abducted child with no idea of who his real parents are or where they live. The two men ultimately travel together: Zekuan to find his son, and Shuai to find his parents.
The film paints a harsh and depressing picture of child abduction in China. The police are ultimately unhelpful. Society tends to blame the parents for not keeping a vigilant enough eye on their children. For Shuai, having no formal identity papers means he cannot take a train or aeroplane, or get married, or get a government job, or even go to university. He lives inside a bureaucratic nightmare where one hand of government fails to find abducted children and the other hand fails to support them when they stand up and reveal themselves. A brief subplot in the film focuses on a young mother whose baby has just been kidnapped. It is perhaps a little under-drawn, and only tangentially meets up with the main story, but on more basic terms it is a valuable addition. It fleshes out an addition aspect of the issue.
The film’s key performances are excellent. Lau really works against type here as Zekuan. He has been on the road for far too long in a seemingly futile search, and Lau performs the role in a manner that showcases the subtle long-term damage that has caused. He seems small, and rather timid. He shuffles akwardly around the place. When his emotions do burst out they come in torrents. By contrast Jing Boran plays Shuai much more openly and broadly, showing a lot of optimism and enthusiasm. It creates a wonderful contrast between the two characters. The film also includes two odd little cameos: one by Tony Leung Ka-fai as a traffic cop, and another by Sandra Ng as a human trafficker. Such cameos are commonplace in Hong Kong cinema in particular, but still always strike me as a little odd and distracting.
The film is sentimental, but it is also sensible enough to rein that sentimentality in when it counts. The film’s climax, for example, is not an entirely happy one. Not everybody succeeds in their quest, or finds what it is they are seeking. In the lead-up, the film presents a beautiful showcase of the Chinese countryside as Zekuan and Shuai travel from province to province. Cinematographer Mark Lee is one of the finest talents in his field, having worked with the likes of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Wong Kar-wai, and he has a knack for gently making every single shot count. He transforms Lost and Love into an absolutely gorgeous picture, one that emphasises the journey over the destination. Combined with the simple, straight-forward screenplay and the contrasting performances, it all adds up to a wonderful film: both heartwarming and heartbreaking in turn.
Andy Lau has always impressed me with the way in which he has leveraged his huge popular success in Hong Kong and China to bring the works of new and promising filmmakers to the screen. Beginning with 1991’s Saviour of the Soul, Lau’s own production company has produced literally dozens of films, including several hugely acclaimed works such as Made in Hong Kong (1997), A Simple Life (2012) and my personal favourite Gallants (2010). He also seems to be well ahead of the industry curve in hiring female film directors: Ann Hui, Ruby Yang, Frankie Chen and now Peng Sanyuan – a successful writer making her directorial debut. She has done a tremendous job.