Friday, September 21, 2018

Sway: It’s a Small World After All

Sometimes travel is necessary to achieve a better life. This is often the immigrant experience. For others, travel is just another way of standing still. This is not so uncommonly the expat experience. It is frequently unclear which kind of travel applies to the three international couples in Rooth Tang’s Sway (trailer here), which is now available on digital VOD platforms.

Arthur, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong, has been fired off the crew of a Hollywood movie. At loose ends, he visits his lover in Paris, but his visa expires soon. Vivian was once a famous teenage TV star in HK, but she has opted for the relative obscurity of print journalism. She clearly has a serious case of Garbo syndrome, but she is maybe starting to open up to Arthur, just a bit. Regardless, convincing to return to HK with him will take some talking.

Meanwhile, Amanda is struggling to be a good stepmother in America to her Japanese step-daughter, but Grace makes it difficult. Of course, her expat Japanese husband is instinctively strict, but Grace really has yet to come to terms with her mother’s death. Amanda would like to help her with that, but she keeps getting frozen out. The gossipy expat community is not much help either, but at least she and her husband really do love each other.

Initially, Thai couple June and Palm also look like they are deeply in love. However, soon after their marriage, Palm’s entrepreneurial schemes go up in smoke. Both are college educated, so June would be happy to settle for an average life as salary earners, but Palm has a notion to start over in America, even though it would mean living a subsistence existence as off-the-books workers.

Sway is an absolutely gorgeous film thanks to the richly evocative cinematography of Lyn Moncrief and Vasco Lucas Nunes. Arguably, the Parisian storyline is best served by its romantic look. It also happens to be the strongest of the three and also the one most responsible for earning Sway comparisons to Wong Kar-wai. Lu Huang, known for serious films like Blind Massage and Blind Mountain, gives another challenging and disciplined performance, but she also shows a romantic side we have not seen enough of. Matt Chung-tien Wu is perhaps even more affecting as Arthur, struggling with his rootlessness. Together, they develop chemistry in the tradition Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman, but they might be even more cosmopolitan.

Even though the Los Angeles segments do not quite have the same dreamy vibe, Kris Wood Bell, Kazuhiko Nishimura, and Miki Ishikawa all do some remarkably sensitive and assured work as the step-mother, old dad, and daughter Grace, respectively. Thanks to this central trio, their storyline also probably ends with the strongest payoff. Eyes might get a little misty even.

That leaves the Bangkok arc as the film’s weak link, but to be fair, Sajee Apiwong is arrestingly poignant, but her best work comes without Ananda Everingham’s Palm. It is too intangible to pin down why, but somehow their rapport just does not come together. Still, like the rest of the film, Pang capitalizes on the picturesque Thai locations.

During Sway, we feel how the world just isn’t big enough to lose yourself in anymore. That is especially true for Arthur, who is rather shocked when his mother joins him in Paris, but she quite charms us in the audience. You can certainly compare it to other films, but Sway really transports you in the moment and stays with you long after viewing. Highly recommended, especially for anyone who has been involved in an international relationship, Sway is now available on VOD, including iTunes.