You get two movies for the price of one in Lulu The Movie(PG, 103 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars). The first half sees the titular character (Michelle Chong, who also writes and directs) fly here from a place in China where headbands and big hair never went away.
What follows isn't the adventures of the Lulu seen on television - this Lulu can be angry, yearning and sad. She is no longer the chirpy Chinglish-spouting caricature seen on Channel 5 sketch show The Noose, where Chong gave birth to the character.
In the second half of this fairy tale, we leave the "rags" drama and arrive in the utterly fabulous "riches" territory. Lulu has finally climbed her way up the social ladder and now has her own show about fashion (or "fei siang", in her world).
In this latter section, fact and fiction come together in the style of Borat (2006) and Bruno (2009). Lulu the host stops bystanders in London, Shanghai and other places for clever and hilarious interviews in which she mocks her own wardrobe (a collision of 1980s Hong Kong cabaret and 1990s jazzercise), while subtly exposing their assumptions about people from China.
In other words, the first half of the movie feels like the veggies that must be consumed before dessert is served. Luckily for Chong, the last course is the one that people usually remember.
The prelude is a chaotic jumble of vignettes dealing with Lulu's fish-out-of-water problems, aided by cameos from Singapore YouTube and media personalities mugging as hard as they can. Lulu screws up because she cannot grasp simple English. The jokes rely on cross-language punning - "menu"/ "no beef" (or meiniu in Mandarin) is one groan-worthy example. The joke is bad enough on paper, but imagine it performed in a restaurant scene.
Lion(PG, 129 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars) is another Asian fairy tale, but this one is based on a true story.
Small-town boy Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar as a child and Dev Patel as an adult) is scavenging in the train yards with his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) when he falls asleep in a carriage. The boy is locked in for a journey of 1,500km to the megapolis of Kolkata, where he does not speak the language.
After a series of near-misses with men of evil intent, Saroo winds up in an orphanage and is adopted by Australian couple Sue and John Brierly (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), who take him to Hobart, Tasmania.
As an adult, Saroo is haunted by memories of his mother and brother and becomes obsessed with tracing his biological family.
The pre-Australia section of the movie has the exhilarating, jittery energy of gangster movie City Of God (2002). Kolkata is as much a character in this movie as Rio de Janeiro was in the Brazilian film. Australian director Garth Davis, making his feature debut, depicts the city in the abstract, a place of shadows and textures ready to make a meal of a small boy.
The middle portion, which sees Saroo the man torn apart by traumatic memories, suffers from sagginess. But by the film's climax - even if you know how it will end - viewers should be a blubbering mess.
Speaking of messes, here is legal potboiler The Whole Truth(NC16, 94 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars), a movie that could have come from the 1990s heyday of movies based on John Grisham novels.
Keanu Reeves is lawyer Ramsey, hired to protect sullen teen Mike (Gabriel Basso), who is arrested after confessing that he stabbed his father Boone (Jim Belushi) to death. Ramsey suspects Mike and the widow Loretta (Renee Zellweger) of keeping secrets from him and, unless he can pry them loose, the teen might spend a long time in prison.
There's nothing wrong with a thriller that combines a whodunit with a legal procedural. But Oscar-nominated director Courtney Hunt (Frozen River, 2008) tosses red herrings into the story with a heavy hand and wastes fine actors such as Gugu Mbatha-Raw in pointless supporting roles. When the whole truth arrives in the final act, viewers will find it hard to care.
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