33 Postcards's Chinese Orphan Visits Her Murderous Aussie Sponsor, Feel-goodery Ensues
Haphazardly veering between bloody prison stabbings and angelic orphans out-wholesoming the von Trapp brood, the bilingual Aussie drama 33 Postcards is a film as rootless as its foundling protagonist. Director Pauline Chan wastes a novel premise—the real-life voyage of a Chinese teen to visit her generous Australian sponsor, who turns out to be a murderer in prison—by flattening all emotional interactions and ethical quandaries into a platonic ideal of two-dimensionality. Taking the place of the feisty Maria is implausibly naive Mei Mei (Zhu Lin, eager as a puppy but expressive as a newt), an aspiring children's choir director. When her orphanage is invited to sing in Sydney, Mei Mei seizes the chance to meet her longtime benefactor and pen pal, Dean (Guy Pearce), whom she's come to regard as her "real" father. Having fed Mei Mei fantasies of first-world prosperity, Dean is less than thrilled to be revealed as a liar, especially when he's busy dodging attacks from a prison gang. While waiting for Dean's imminent release, Mei Mei begins a cornball flirtation with Carl (Lincoln Lewis), an older boy with ties to the same criminals threatening her sponsor. The script's programmatic feel-goodery smooths out everything strange and noteworthy about Dean and Mei Mei's relationship into an unmemorable and unconvincing blandness. But the film can't help offering one worthy souvenir, a subtle message against transnational adoption tacked on to the end like a fortune cookie stapled to the tongue after a Panda Express meal.
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