Wednesday, May 15, 2013

33 Postcards: An Official Australian-Chinese Co-Production

There is a debate whether sponsor-a-child programs are truly beneficial or counterproductive.  This film is more likely to confuse the issue rather than clarify it.  Be that as it may, viewers looking for a good cry will probably find it in Pauline Chan’s 33 Postcards (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Mei Mei (“Little Sister”) never really knew the parents who abandoned her at the orphanage.  While she watched as many other girls were adopted, she always remained.  At least, she had one thing going for her: the Australian sponsor covering her school tuition.  When the Orphanage choir books an Australian tour, she is excited to finally meet Dean Randall.  Yet, for some strange reason he never responds to arrange a meeting.

Playing hokey, Mei Mei eventually tracks Randall down—in prison.  It seems he is not a park ranger after all.  On the bright side, he is up for parole soon, assuming he survives the prison protection racket.  Being a trusting sort, Mei Mei falls in with Carl, the son of Randall’s old boss.  Actually, he is not such a bad kid, but trouble is inevitable in their world.

While one might argue Postcards presents both the pluses and minuses of sponsorship program, it pretty unequivocally suggests the Australian prison system is ridiculously mismanaged. Regardless, it is impossible to root against the pure-of-heart Mei Mei.  There is something about her earnest innocence that harkens back to China’s propaganda films of yore.  Yet, Zhu Lin’s performance has such sincerity and charisma she will keep even the most jaded viewers totally invested throughout the film.  It is a breakout turn that deservedly won her the Rising Star Award at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Realizing there is no way he can outshine his young co-star, Guy Pearce doubles down on understated reserve.  Nonetheless, they develop real chemistry together, even though their scenes together are largely confined to the prison visiting room.  Unfortunately, as Randall’s public defender, Claudia Karvan (Padme’s elder sister in Revenge of the Sith) just stands around condescendingly, as if she is trying to decide if she really wants to be part of the movie or not.  However, Lincoln Lewis (a great actor’s name) is kind of not bad as Carl.

Is 33 Postcards manipulative?  Good gosh, yes, but the winning Zhu Lin carries it like a champion, while getting a quiet but effective assist from Pearce.  Recommended for those who appreciate well executed sentimentality, 33 Postcards opens this Friday (5/17) in New York at the AMC Village 7 and is also available through Gravitas Ventures’ VOD platforms.