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Movie Review

'Restless,' a U.S.-China Comedy Venture, Travels a Bumpy Road

November 03, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Restless"--that's the way you may find yourself feeling while watching what is billed as "the first English-language film set in contemporary Beijing and the first ever U.S.-China co-production." Well-meaning in the utmost--and of course, determinedly nonpolitical--it's an uneven romantic comedy that veers between the sincere and the contrived. It gathers depth and credibility as it goes along but is never truly compelling, which may explain why it bears a 2-year-old copyright.

Writer-director Jule Gilfillan might have been better off trying to tell one love story instead of two. In any event, she first introduces us to Leah (Catherine Kellner), a vapid American whose self-proclaimed dream of finding "the perfect love in a faraway place" has taken her to Beijing. She has landed, none too credibly, a job as a copy editor for the English-language edition of a major Chinese daily and also in the sack with another American (Josh Lucas), who proves to be less than the "perfect love" she's seeking. She's urged by friends to get even with the guy by picking up some strategizing tips from a handsome Chinese TV chess master (Geng Le) only to fall under his spell.

All of this plays out in strained fashion, but the film perks up with the arrival of Richard Kao (David Wu), a brash, brawny Chinese American surfer dude who's dutifully carrying out his recently deceased grandfather's wish to have his ashes buried in his native land and who is eager to depart for an Oahu surfing stopover.

Wu has lots of energy and personality, and he's able to show us Richard's growing maturity as he spends time with Chinese relatives he scarcely knew existed, learning some painful truths about the family patriarch and becoming increasingly attracted to his uncle's wife's demure niece (Chen Shang-Chyi). Richard and his story are far more credible and involving than Leah and her romantic vicissitudes.

To her credit, Gilfillan builds to a resolution in Leah's case that is far more credible than what precedes it, and it's in the film's final section that Kellner fares best. Gilfillan's point is simple enough: to show us two Americans who mature while caught in the grip of cross-cultural emotions and two Chinese who learn to free themselves from the dictates of family tradition. Technically, "Restless" is reasonably polished, presenting an inviting travelogue view of Beijing.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: A few four-letter words, mild sensuality.

'Restless'

Catherine Kellner: Leah Quinn

David Wu: Richard Kao

Geng Le: Master Sun Zhan

Chen Shang-Chyi: Lin Qing Qing

An Arrow Features release of a Sci-tech Culture Co. (China) presentation of a Celestial Pictures production (USA). Writer-director Jule Gilfillan. Producer Peter Shiao. Executive producers Lulu, Wang Yang Jun. Cinematographer Yang Shu. Editor Folmer Wiesinger. Music Laura Karpman. Production designer Cao Jiu Ping. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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