2006 // China // Chao Wang // November 18, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
Chao Wang's Luxury Car strives to achieve two things: a socially relevant time capsule of China's stumbling shift from languid rural patterns to glitzy urban rot, as well as a family melodrama about loss and secrecy. The film never quite succeeds at either, perhaps because Wang has little sense for how to effectively syncreticize these two currents. Qiming (He Huang), a schoolteacher from the countryside, comes to Wuhan to visit his urbanized daughter, Yanhong (Yuan Tian), and search for his son, missing for two years now. Unbeknown to Qiming, his daughter is working as a karaoke "escort," and sleeping with her oily boss (He Huang). Wang studs Luxury Car with graceful moments that capture his themes with quiet assurance: Qiming gazing in bewilderment on a college campus he hasn't seen in four decades, or Yanhong tearing away her roommate's sex-drenched bed linens in shame. However, the film's glacial pacing never conveys the emotional depth Wang hopes to reach, and one gets the sense that he's slowing down to conceal his clumsy weaving of Luxury Car's thematic elements. The result is a work too flimsy to support either its thriller twists or its endless sighs and hesitations.