Film Review: Lost For Words

American-Chinese romance is gauzy cheese.

Two new arrivals in Hong Kong, ex-Marine turned computer wiz Michael (Sean Faris) and aspiring ballerina Anna (Grace Huang) meet and fall in love, and their bond forms the basis for an interracial would-be "sweeping romance," directed by Stanley J. Orzei from a script he co-wrote with C. Joseph Bendy. To put it bluntly, Lost for Words is no Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing or Sayonara (which weren't really all that great either). For all the exoticism of the locale and pretty visuals, the film is weirdly lacking in dramatic tension and true romantic ardor, while desperately striving for a kind of class exemplified by its cheesy use of music from the opera Lakme. What we get is a dreary abundance of clichés, from Michael's status as a Kabul veteran who is dumped by his girlfriend upon returning from duty, to Anna being the oh-so-proper, demure maiden in need of a good thawing.

Huang is ravishingly beautiful and a decent actress, and it's a pleasure to watch her, but her dance scenes are filmed with so much distracting cutting and gauzy photography that you can't tell if she has any talent or, indeed, is really dancing at all. Faris is duly stalwart and enacts the love scenes with as much passion as he can muster, but never rises above an early-Tom Cruise blandness. The relationship between these two awfully pretty people with less than volcanic chemistry is simply not enough to hang a film on, and you yearn for something else to happen, like Michael maybe getting caught up in the shady world of Hong Kong big business.

David Henry Hwang's ultra-clever, funny and enlightening play, Chinglish, which had an unjustly brief Broadway run, makes this film seem even more paltry by comparison. Hwang harvested incredibly fecund, hilarious linguistic humor from Western misappropriation of Chinese, and vice-versa. Here, the screenplay, for all of its emphasis on Michael's struggles with this new language, doesn't even elicit so much as a droll smirk. ("Do you know dim sum?" is a typical line.)

Joman Chiang plays Anna's spikier, sexier dancer girlfriend and is a far more interesting character, although we never find out what happens after she makes a play for a well-heeled patron of the arts. Haughty Terence Yin preens about as the ballet director, with the ubiquitous draped sweater over his shoulders, and is but one more dramatic stereotype in a movie that sinks under their collective weight. "Forget the words, follow your heart" is this film's oft-repeated Hallmark card sentiment. You may just want to forget the movie and follow the aisle to the exit.