Exploring distance in three stories

REVIEW / DRAMA

DISTANCE (PG13)

108 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3/5 stars

The story: The movie comprises three separate stories linked by leading man Chen Bo-lin and the theme of physical and emotional separation. The Son, by China's Xin Yukun, is about a businessman coming across his long-estranged father (Paul Chun) on a work trip to Guangxi. The Lake, by Singapore's Tan Shijie, is about the meeting of two childhood friends many years later, when one of them (Yo Yang) has been sentenced to death in Singapore. The Goodbye, by Thailand's Sivaroj Kongsakul, reunites a young academic with his former professor (Jiang Wenli) in Bangkok.

The most famous film-maker associated with this omnibus project is not credited as a director. Instead, Anthony Chen, who won international acclaim for his family drama Ilo Ilo (2013), takes on executive producer and scriptwriting duties here, giving the reins to three up-and-coming film-makers.

While it may be impossible to tease apart his influence on the works, the quiet observation and degree of sensitivity in tackling the material recalls Ilo Ilo.

Furthermore, a sense of restraint - sometimes intriguing, sometimes frustrating - pervades all three segments.

The Lake is the strongest entry, colouring an idyllic friendship with shades of foreboding as people whisper and a father broods. Young actors Cheng Huan-lin and Wei Han-ding are also naturals as the younger versions of Yo Yang and Chen Bo-lin - one confident and proud and the other wavering and conflicted as undercurrents pull them in different directions.

The Son juxtaposes Chen's relationship with his estranged father with a momentous decision in his life. Unfortunately, there are one too many chance encounters in a story set not in a village, but in a bustling Chinese city. Even Chen's chauffeur exclaims at one point: "See someone you know again?"

While The Goodbye leaves ellipses in the relationship between the one-time teacher and student, played by wellregarded actress Jiang Wenli and Chen, it overcompensates by spelling out the themes of closeness and distance in lectures the latter gives. Having Thai actress Pat (Chayanit Chansangavej) as a university student who develops a crush on Chen as a device to echo the past also feels a little too, well, pat.

The cast put in strong performances. Soulful leading man Chen Bo-lin - whose credits include coming-of-age drama Blue Gate Crossing (2002) and hit romance series In Time With You (2011) - is consistently watchable as he wrestles with a gamut of emotions brought on by various revelations.

Veteran Hong Kong actor Paul Chun is both pathetic and sympathetic as the long-missing dad in The Son.

What the movie leaves you with is a sense of the things - love, hate, pain - that neither time nor distance can erase completely.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'Exploring distance in three stories'. Print Edition | Subscribe