Monday, April 29, 2019

Tribeca ’19: Two/One

This review might have made some dude in Shanghai oversleep. Mysterious, tenuous relationships are what the film in question is all about. In this case, it is the unknown connection between a Canadian ski jumper and a successful but lonely Shanghai executive. When one is awake, the other is asleep. It is not a relationship either is aware of, but it will eventually cause complications in Juan Cabral’s Two/One, which screens during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.

Kaden Russell is over the hill, but he has already sacrificed too much to give up on his Olympic dream. That most definitely includes relationships, but things might be looking up when the great love of his life suddenly comes looking him up again. His athletic prospects also start to brighten when Russell pulls a monster jump out of the vault, qualifying himself for the world championships. However, the competition will be in Japan this year, which will be an issue.

Meanwhile, Kai has steadily climbed the ladder at an ad agency with clients throughout Asia. Like Russell, he has not had anything happening from a relationship standpoint, until Jia joins the firm as a junior associate. She is beautiful, but self-conscious about her prosthetic foot, the unfortunate by-product of a recent accident. It has been a tough time for her, judging from the revealing photos her ex posted on a revenge website. Even though Kai stumbles across the online photos, he is still deeply attracted to her. Yet, he cannot help worrying what other people might think. Inconveniently, he will have to give a presentation in Japan exactly when he should stay to repair his relationship with Jia.

Although the first two acts largely feel like two unrelated storylines braided together, Cabral brings them together in a devilishly clever way when the film shifts to Japan and Korea (where both characters’ flights are forced to divert). Things get crazy down the stretch, but in a way we have never seen before.

Boyd Holbrook is so earnest and convincingly Canadian as Russell, viewers will really feel for him as he faces up to life’s disappointments. Yet, arguably the most touching work comes from Zhu Zhu (the rising star of Marco Polo), who overshadows Song Yang’s ultra-reserved Kai as the sensitive and insecure Jia. Dominique McElligott also makes a strong impression as the former lover stirring up Russell’s emotions, while Beau Bridges chews the scenery shamelessly as his restless father.

It is hard to neatly fit Two/One into a genre box, but it sort of fits the unnamed sub-genre, in which fate is shown to play games with the oblivious characters, exemplified by films like Kieslowski’s Blind Chance. It is an odd duck of a film, but also very definitely a distinctive one, in terms of tone and structure. Recommended for viewers who want to see something different, Two/One screens again tomorrow (4/30) and Thursday (5/2), as part of this year’s Tribeca.