Finding Shangri-La

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 May, 2009, 12:00am

Finding Shangri-La

Zhu Zhiying, Matt Wu Zhong-tian

Director: Ismene Ting

Ismene Ting and Stan Lai Sheng-chuan, two pillars of the Taiwanese stage, attempt to fuse the theatrical and cinematic in relating a grieving woman's spiritual journey that takes her from Taipei to Shangri-La. Though intellectually challenging and visually pleasing, the movie doesn't deliver the emotional wallop clearly intended by first-time writer-director Ting and producer Lai, both making a rare foray into motion pictures.

Zhu Zhiying (who had a supporting role in Lust, Caution) brings depth and feeling to the role of Ji-ling, a young woman consumed by the death of her five-year-old son. Ji-ling's discovery of the boy's self-drawn clues for a 'treasure hunt' leads her to the snow-capped Tibetan region of Yunnan popularly known as Shangri-La, where her existence takes on something of a fairy-tale quality. A seemingly chance encounter with a handsome Taiwanese tourist (Matt Wu) is the catalyst to Ji-ling's understanding the meaning of the treasure hunt, and being able to forgive those she blames for the tragedy, including herself, and face life anew.

The events are recounted via a mixture of flashbacks, straight-forward narrative, and incidents that might or might not be dreams.

It's the kind of story whose symbolism, allegory, and portrayal of inner emotional states might be better suited to the printed page or live performance (it originally was presented as a stage musical in Taiwan). The film version of Finding Shangri-La engages the brain more than the heart, occasionally breaking through with stirring moments.