The truly anonymous characters referred to merely in the abstract in the solemn title of Li Yu’s Lost In Beijing, are among the many hopeful migrants from the Chinese countryside diminishing into lost souls when they hit the money-driven metropolis. While the director attempts to give them a voice and some sense of humanity, the social and emotional impact of the story get fragmented, with many incomprehensible and insignificant detours.
An-kun (Tong Da Wei) and his wife Ping-guo (Fan Bingbing) are a young rural married couple recently arrived in Beijing to find jobs and create a life for themselves. But their prospects are less than promising as they settle into cramped, shabby living quarters. An-kun finds work as a window washer, dangling dangerously off the edges of high rises, while Ping-guo and the other uniformly young and presumably unmarried female employees (according to staff regulations) endure humiliation and sexual harassment, toiling as masseuses at the tacky Golden Basin Foot Massage Parlor.
One day, after getting drunk with a girlfriend at work in order to drown her sorrows, Ping-guo returns smashed, and is barely able to resist rape at the hands of her sleazy promiscuous older boss, Dong (Tony Leung Ka-Fai). As far-fetched fate would have it, Ping-guo’s husband just happens to be washing the window facing in on the scene of the crime, and he storms inside to confront his wife’s attacker.
At this point, any typical romantic melodrama such as this, would proceed in a more than well traveled direction. But since this is Beijing, and a traditional culture with enormous reverence for family and community that has more recently slipped into the prevailing economic anarchy of the rapidly imposed market economy, anything apparently goes. And well it does.
An-kun, while initially really peeved, reorders his priorities in a flash after learning that Ping-guo is pregnant, and that her dastardly boss may be the father. So instead, the two antagonistic men become partners, drawing up a contract where An-kun will in essence sell the baby to the prosperous and childless Dong for much needed cash. At the same time, Dong’s wife Wang-mei (Elaine Jin), long aware of her spouse’s unfaithfulness, decides to get even by seducing Ping-guo’s husband in turn.
Eventually this far too cozy foursome along with their various financial agreements, get caught up in all sorts of messy human emotions and entanglements, as they are prone to do. But the narrative path proceeds less into tragedy than absurd and at times bizarre lunacy. As well as tacking on a few unpleasant touches that routinely arise every year in movies lacking any sort of sensitivity regarding the lives of women, such as falling in love – or at least in lust – with one’s rapist.
Lost In Beijing is most noted for several thumb-nosing gratuitous sex scenes that got the movie reprimanded by the censors back home. Beyond that, the unfocused story is essentially as lost and incoherent as its characters.
New Yorker Films
In English with Mandarin subtitles