Taiwan’s renowned stage director and actress, playwright and core member of the Performance Workshop (表演工作坊), Ismene Ting (丁乃箏) makes a foray into cinema with her directorial debut Finding Shangri-La (這兒是香格里拉).
Produced by theater doyen Stan Lai (賴聲川), the film about a woman’s inner journey generates interest and anticipation, but the moviemakers’ rather feeble command of cinematic language restrains the voyage from evolving fully.
The introspective journey begins with Jee Ling (Zhu Zhiying, 朱芷瑩), a well-off housewife and mother living in Taipei who has yet to come to terms with the loss of her child two years previously in a hit-and-run car accident. Denied justice as the driver got off scot-free because of insufficient evidence, the embittered Jee Ling’s marriage is on the verge of disintegration as unresolved frustration and anger alienate her husband.
One day at home, Jee Ling discovers a clue her deceased son left for the treasure hunt game they once enjoyed playing together. The young mother decides to follow the clue and embarks on a quest to find a sacred mountain in the mystical land of Shangri-La, in Yunnan Province.
A couple of encounters in the secluded paradise gradually transform the heroine. A mysterious young man named Alex (Matt Wu, 吳中天) awakens Jee Ling to her desires and passion. However, it takes a Tibetan boy who is as wise as a sage to open Jee Ling’s heart. Revelations come in the form of dreams and visions that guide her to regain inner peace and the strength to forgive and love again.
Adapted from the musical of the same title directed by Ting in 2000, the film is built on a promising quasi-feminist narrative about a woman’s inner transformation. Yet the director’s approach to storytelling is rather plain, if not completely unimaginative, and more often than not, her characters appear less than flesh and blood.
FINDING SHANGRI-LA (袞兒是香格里拉)
DIRECTED BY: ISMENE TING (丁乃箏)
STARRING: ZHU ZHIYING (朱芷瑩) AS JEE LING, MATT WU (伶中天) AS ALEX
LANGUAGE: IN CHINESE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES
RUNNING TIME: 106 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
Mostly shot on location in Shangri-La County (香格里拉縣), Yunnan, the film received a special mention for its director of photography at the Cairo International Film Festival in November last year. Instead of actively helping to shape the characters’ psyches and the unfolding story line, the breath-taking landscape, however, is an inert backdrop.
Young actress Zhu delivers a passable performance as the tormented heroine, which shows that she has plenty of work to do before she begins to shine on screen.
Cast for a leading role in stage director Lai’s epic production A Dream Like a Dream (如夢之夢) in 2005, Zhu was subsequently noticed by Ang Lee (李安) and landed a supporting role in Lust, Caution (色戒).