Pali Road

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Pali Road
"Though the film is billed as a romance, it's in the creepiness of this situation that it really makes an impact."

Pali road is a stretch of highway that runs across the island of Oahu, from Honolulu to the windward cliff of Ko'olau Mountain. It's a modern road on an ancient route, one long associated with the supernatural. This contemporary love story is steeped in ancient folklore and uses this uncanny perspective to explore issues that have been pertinent throughout the ages.

Up and coming Taiwanese star Michelle Chen in Lily, a young doctor torn between her career and her feelings for boyfriend Neil (Jackson Rathbone). When he proposes, she hesitates to answer. An argument follows and their car goes off the road. But when Lily wakes up, nobody seems to have heard of Neil. She finds herself in a large house where colleague Mitch (Sung Kang), who has long carried a torch for her, insist he is her husband - and where a five year old boy (Maddox Lim) insists he is her son.

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Though the film is billed as a romance, it's in the creepiness of this situation that it really makes an impact. Mitch gently explains to Lily that she may have a brain injury; a specialist concurs. A friend tells her with well-intentioned cruelty that she has to accept it all for the child's sake. Her parents come to visit, fiercely critical of her decisions, which causes her to question other aspects of her life. Alongsside her desperate need to get back to Neil, she's struggling with fundamental aspects of her ientity.

Chen gives a quiet, understated performance, creeping around the house trying to overhear what other people are saying about her. Her occasional bursts of fury are more powerful for it. Kang is muted beside her, careful to give her space even when his character is controlling, and manages to convince as a man who has loved her for a long time - but that could be true regardless of what's going on, and he's just distant enough to keep us questioning whether or not it's healthy.

Cinematographer Quyen Tran uses a pale colour palette for the interior scenes which makes this world seem less substantial. The exteriors are rougher, more real, yet there's still a sense of claustrophobia within the house.

Jonathan Hua Lang Lim is primarily a television director and his inexperience with film sometimes shows in the pacing. He's also overindulgent in places, especially with more sentimental scenes, but this may have played better with audiences in China where it's more usual for films to include a lot of heavy emotion. Western audiences may find it reminiscent of a TV movie. That's a shame, because although it threatens to meander too much and lose its bearing, this is a smarter film than it seems on the surface. The themes untangled in its denouement are more important than the narrative and Chen really delivers when it matters.

Reviewed on: 25 Apr 2016
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Pali Road packshot
A woman wakes up after a car crash to find herself living a life she knows nothing about.

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