Qingdao, 1948. The tumultuous rise of Communism is forever reshaping the Chinese mainland, but you wouldn't know it in Ann Hu's insular soap opera, no matter its historical-epic pretense. Headstrong schoolgirl Fei (Zhou Xun), bastard offspring to a wealthy capitalist and his maid, feels pressured to live with her estranged older half-sister Ying (Vivian Wu) after their father's death, as Daddy's will stipulates that Fei will otherwise lose her scholarship and Ying the luxurious estate she's been accustomed to. The elder sis plans to liquidate "father's asse," as one hilariously misprinted subtitle reads (perhaps the most fun this critic had in all the film's boring-as-sin stiffness), and run away with unintentionally creepy casino owner Huang (Wang Zhi Wen). He, on the other hand, is more aroused by young Fei, whose teen-diary narration alone would turn off most men (and will turn off most viewers): "I am drawn to her like a leaf falls to the ground," she broods about Ying. Just as Hu's last film, 2000's Shadow Magic, was an East-meets-West collaboration, so too is Beauty Remains. Produced by Fine Line founder Ira Deutchman and scripted by American writers before being translated into Mandarin, the film plays like the work of a fifth-generation Chinese hack faking a lavish Hollywood saga on an indie budget: It's all soft focuses, sax flourishes, and silky slo-mos.
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