Dearest

Directed by Peter Chan

Starring Zhao Wei, Huang Bo, Hao Lei, Tong Dawei and Zhang Yi

Drawing on remarkable true stories, Peter Chan delivers a moving drama about child abduction in China. Huang Bo stars as a father whose young son disappears in the streets of a big city. He sets out on a search across China, stopping at nothing to find him. In this star-studded cast, Zhao Wei plays the role of a mother from a poor rural area.

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  • ★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd

    SIFF 2015

    The wrenching true story of two parents who search for years for their abducted child, kidnapped out from under them on the streets of Shenzhen. Only a lunatic like Hong Kong director Peter Chan would make that story the only first half of his movie, while devoting the second to the desperation of the mother who was raising said abducted child to get her other kid back after she's sent to an orphanage. Only a genius like Peter Chan could actually make it work. Dominated by three brilliant performances from the involved parents (Zhao Wei and Hao Lei as the two mothers, Huang Bo as the father), Chan opens the film up from a standard ripped-from-the-headlines melodrama to something more expansive, a portrait of a Chinese society breaking apart as the class divide grows between rich and poor, urban and rural, those who know how to navigate the country's bureaucracy and those who do not. Hao and Huang lead a thoroughly modern middle class existence in Shenzhen, the scenes could be set in any city in the world, dominated by cars and wires, divorce and the internet. Zhao lives in a small farming village, doesn't speak proper Mandarin and believes everything her (now-deceased) husband told her. As much as the first half of the film is about the precariousness of our lives (especially as parents), the second is about opening Zhao's eyes to the modern world, to just how alien she is from it, and just how much she does not understand. She's already racked up a handful of Best Actress awards for her performance, make-up free with bad hair and lots of anguished tears, but Hao (familiar from Lou Ye films like Summer Palace and Mystery) and Huang (who played The Monkey King in Stephen Chow's Journey to the West) are just as good.

  • ★★★★½ review by Wendy on Letterboxd

    This film was really eye-opening to the child abduction issue in China. Did you know that buying children is not illegal in China?! Peter Chan relayed this to the audience at TIFF at its first screening, and the audience was completely surprised by this fact. (His entire Q&A was rather informative actually. He answered questions very thoroughly, connecting his film to the original documentary and to the current issue in China.)

    Of course, the film may have overused the soundtrack, overloading it with epic symphony pieces to bring on the tears, and the first half of the movie might have been a little typical for a child abduction film, but these two points don't take away to how amazing the overall movie was.

    Zhao Wei's performance is the highlight of this film. Her scene at the police station - I've never seen her this raw. She completely sheds her celebrity in the scene, collapsing on the police floor as she weeps for her son. Had another actress been in this role, I don't think you would have been able to emotionally understand this mother's desperateness to get her child back. This, I think, is the most pivotal scene in the movie as it bridges the two halves of the film together, the story from the birth father's point of view, and now the the story from the adoptive mother's point of view.

    I also love how the film presented China's child abduction issue from various characters: The birth parents, the adoptive mother, the group tour leader (the friends), the adoption centre, the lawyer, the court, and even the law. China's one-child policy opens up a wide range of opinions and stories, and this film does really well in showcasing one of them.

  • ★★★★ review by Cineshots Blog (Jesue Valle) on Letterboxd

    SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL 2015 // DAY 1 // FILM 1/33

    Based on true stories of child abduction in China, we follow a father's desperate search for his son. But this is only the setup. The film unfolds layers of interconnected stories surrounding this one incident that reveal the implications of China's child laws. It sounds dire but at times it's surprisingly funny.

    The film proudly utilises conventions of modern melodrama. A genre that is rarely seen and largely sneered at in Western culture but remains popular in Asia and Hispanic regions. I have fond memories of watching dubbed melodrama TV shows growing up in the Philippines and there are familiar conventions here, from the overbearing score to the coincidental plot developments (characters just happen to wander in at the right place and at the right time).

    However, what sets DEAREST apart is the inclusion of complex characters that veer away from mere stereotypes.

    It recalls Kore-eda's LIKE FATHER LIKE SON and Farhadi's A SEPARATION and though it doesn't quite soar as high as those masterpieces, it is still a compelling and moving family drama.

  • ★★★½ review by Martin Jensen on Letterboxd

    Review soon.

  • ★★★★ review by Ledi on Letterboxd

    Fantastic acting from Zhao Wei of Pearl Princess fame. Lovely, touching, and heartrending movie that touches on issues Chinese society has with the desire to have heirs under the one-child and now two-child policy, versus a parent's genuine love regardless of social status or tradition. Population control is necessary, but people aren't handling the sharp transitions well. Hard issue with hard consequences.

    I can't find any flaws except that besides the parents, Zhao Wei carried the entire film and the other characters weren't that sympathetic or compelling. I think I also don't condone Zhao Wei that much.

    "Dearest" is a good portrait of the impoverished parts of China, from the wire-filled tech alleys of Guangzhou to the lonely, beautiful countryside.

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