Director: Ka Sing Fung
Cast: Sammi Cheng, Alan Luk, Hedwig Tam
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 13 April 2023
Synopsis: Parenting means raising and nurturing children, but oftentimes children enrich and enlighten the lives of parents instead.
Chan Tin Mei and Ho Bun’s son passed away abruptly at three years old due to a congenital heart disease. Still in pain over the loss, Mei resists having another child.
One day, Mei finds out that they can become a foster family. Her desolate heart finds sustenance from possibly regaining the feeling of being a mother. But when she discovers the emotional scars on the children caused by their harsh realities, she starts to adjust her expectations.
Bun’s extramarital affair leads to a big fight between the couple, but it also reveals the feelings concealed in Bun’s heart. Mei realizes her selfishness; she has neglected Bun’s feelings and the true needs of her wards. In the end, the foster children inspire her and help the couple to redeem their relationship. Although Mei is praised for her dedication to her foster children, she knows she has been saved by the children instead.
When the couple finally settles into a simple and happy life with their foster child, Mei suffers a heart attack. In the final stage of her life, Mei’s seven foster children reappear. She seems to see her son grow in these foster children.
As a former private school bus attendant turned foster mother, Sammi Cheng has earned some of the most glowing reviews of her acting career, and indeed, her stripped down performance in first-time director Ka Sing-fung’s ‘Lost Love’ ranks among one of her best. Like the child actors in Ka’s film, Cheng delivers a naturalistic take on Mei, whom we learn at the start decides to become a foster parent after the bus company she is working for loses the bid on the school bus service she plies.
Though slightly apprehensive at first, Mei’s husband Bun (Alan Luk) agrees to enrol in the state foster care programme, which will require them to bear with the constant and attentive supervision of a social worker (Hedwig Tam). Their first foster kid is a boy whose mother’s psychiatric issues have left him withdrawn and unsettled, though it is only when the latter turns up unannounced at their place does Mei realise why he wets his bed when nervous – and just like that, their first kid is transferred to another facility, which the social worker explains is to protect them from his mother.
Over the next one-and-a-half hours, Ka, who co-wrote the script with Lo Kim-fei, takes his audience through six further such foster encounters. One is a young girl Ching whose grandmother that looks after her is hospitalised; another is a primary school girl Fleur with a cleft lip whom Mei tries to no avail to adopt; and there is also an older sister and younger brother pair, Ka-hei and Ka-long, who decide to play truant one day and end up being stranded in a remote forest during a thunderstorm. Each encounter is a chapter in Mei’s life, and part of a heart-breaking coda at the end.
As much as it reflects Mei’s foster experience, the narrative also sheds light on Mei and Bun’s marital relationship. We learn halfway through the movie that their biological son had died of a hereditary heart problem at the age of three, and how Mei had resisted Bun’s repeated suggestions over the years that they try for another child, before deciding to sign them up for foster care. We also learn how the fostering arrangement takes a toll on their marriage, given how Mei devotes herself to the children under her care and ends up neglecting Bun instead.
Though not ostensibly structured as such, ‘Lost Love’ is ultimately a character study on Mei. With each foster child, Mei learns what it means to let go, settling into a cycle of love and loss that is the episodic storytelling’s unifying theme. Cheng abandons all artifice to settle into the role of Mei, and those who have followed the actress’ oeuvre will probably agree it is probably her most restrained and subtle thus far. Her recent Best Actress win at the 41th Hong Kong Film Awards is a deserving recognition of her accomplishment here.
We’d warn you though that those expecting a social drama may come off disappointed – though it is rooted in social realism and presents a rare look inside Hong Kong’s foster care system, ‘Lost Love’ is after all a story about maternal longing. And in that regard, it affords Cheng an opportunity to dig deep into a affectingly constructed character of quiet tenacity, as well as realise a promising debut from a new filmmaker whom we hope we will see more from soon.
(Featuring Sammi Cheng's most mature performance yet in both subtlety and restraint, 'Lost Love' is a quietly affecting maternal drama of love and loss)
Review by Gabriel Chong