As often happens my favorite movies are unexpected. "In Love we Trust" (2007) was a random pick off the library shelf as a time filler. A Chinese movie with no recognizable participants.
The plot sounds inconceivable, but it is theoretically possible. The key factor is to find a bone marrow match that best insures survival for a particular dying person. Today around the world there are lots of people desperately looking for a match usually found with a close blood relative. Xiaoshuai Wang wrote and directed this movie at a time, 2007 when the Chinese were mostly enforcing a one child policy.
That is a little background, but the movie starts innocently enough with a likely sales woman trying to interest a couple to lease an apartment, but not succeeding. A little detail that plays a role later on.
We soon see a man holding his laughing daughter and running down a hallway with a woman (could be the sales woman) following closely behind. We soon realize that they are a small family. Shortly the young girl is taken for tests as she has a persistent fever. The tests reveal the young girl has cancer. A bone marrow transplant is suggested and the mother is tested, but not a good match. We then realize the man we have been following is her second husband, and not the natural father but understand that he is deeply involved with the young girl.
The first husband is informed and shows a lot of concern although at first he is introduced to his daughter as an uncle. Unfortunately he is not a match either. The mother is frantic and somehow after talking to the doctors realizes the most practical solution is to have another baby with her first husband.
Four adults all have their concerns which the viewer is led gently to appreciate. The mother and her second husband have a very good relationship, but he had hoped that somehow they could have their own baby. The man has totally accepted her daughter as his. The woman had been abandoned by her first husband who remarried after a divorce. Although the viewer might not have much sympathy for the actual father, he wants to be honest with his new wife. They both have very busy jobs as he is a construction manager with a difficult project and she is an airline stewardess. At first his second wife doesn't accept the idea of him being a sperm donor to his first wife. She does feel a bit guilty and with a friend goes to visit the first wife who is away. She meets the daughter with the step father and is touched. She consents, but pressures her husband that she wants a baby.
All set, but it gets a bit more complicated. Two attempts fail and the doctors refuse to consider another. We learn the mother has had an abortion and some miscarriages. With the one child policy the rules have already been bent. The mother who is still resentful of her first husband says the only option is for them to have sex the old fashioned way.
This creates an emotional crisis for the other three adults. The two left out adults are afraid of the intimacy part, but also resentful that they also want to be natural parents. The first husband is worried about his new wife. Everyone tries to be honest about it, but it feels like they are pushing it a bit much and there is push-back. I can't say the movie has a happy ending, but the tension is relieved enough that the audience is satisfied Oh, the detail from the beginning comes back to play a role.
Although the plot may seem contrived the actors are all very believable. They trust love to maintain their relationships and to save the young girl. There is no explicit sex, but the emotional tension holds attention.
The Chinese have since eased the one child rule. I had learned previously that although largely respected there were a number of exceptions allowed. Rich people, rural areas, unusual circumstances. Still a demographic problem that will factor for future generation. One effect has been there aren't enough women for the men, which does not advantage the women as much as you might think. More women are forced into prostitution. Unattached males tend to be more aggressive. It also means that most Chinese children do not have aunts, uncles, siblings or cousins all of whom would offer traditional support.
The woman who plays the mother Liu Weiwei is especially effective and won a best actress award at a film festival, although this was only her second movie. She is still active in television.
Jin-yi Zhang who played the first husband has won a few awards in China. Nan Yu who played the second wife has won a few international awards. Her role perhaps generated the least sympathy, but she made a big adjustment that allowed the plot to move forward.
Taishen Cheng was the only one of the four leads not to have an IMDB photo, but had the most international experience. He had a role in "Biutiful" with Javier Bardem. He also played in the Chinese Mandarin version of "The Devotion of Suspect X," based on one of the best detective books I have read.
The key to this movie is Xiaoshuai Wang who wrote and directed it. He should be credited with eliciting some effective portrayals of the four main characters. Back in 1996 he used an alias to make a film to circumvent restrictive rules against independent films. In 2001 he wrote and directed "Beijing Bicycle," with some resemblance to the classic "The Bicycle Thief," but even more class focused. In 2003 he did "Drifters" which was about a man who had illegally emigrated to the States and had returned. In "11 Flowers" there is more than a hint of political tensions. A more recent movie is "Red Amnesia. " Xiaoshuai has received awards from the Berlin Films Festival (for "In love we Trrust and "Beijing Bicycle." and at Cannes (for "Shanghai Dreams").
"In Love we Trust" was put together carefully that the audience can feel the tension. Sparse, but appropriate mood music provided by Wei Dou who later won an award for "The Equation of Love and Death."
Cinematography was provided by Di Wu who had done two previous films with Xiaoshuai before this one and went onto work on "Red Amnesia." He also contributed to the mood in some cases using filters.
Editing was done by Hongyu Yang who had earlier worked on "Beijing Bicycle." He also worked on the Mandarin adaption on "Miss Granny," a favorite Korean movie that reminded me of my wife's Grandmother, Nanny
I will be on the look out for more films by Xiaoshuai Wang. At this moment this movie has left the most impressive feeling of 2018.