Imagine Davenport, Iowa with a population of 31 million and covered in smog and you might have something close to Chongqing, China, the director's hometown and the setting for Lost, Indulgence. It's in the heartland of the mainland on a big river. It's dreary and foggy. And it looms heavily over the characters and their storied lives here.
The film begins with a taxi cab plunging into the Yangtze River. (Apparently there are folks who make a living fishing bodies out of the massive river. They have knowledge of the places a body is likely to end up. Relatives of the bodies bring photos and pay these people to be on the look out because life insurance monies can't be paid for two years unless there's a body.) The outcome of the crash sets the stage for the lives and relationships Zhang explores in the film as well as being the first clue to a mystery he lets percolate in the background for most of the movie. The driver of the cab is presumed dead but isn't immediately found. The passenger, a street wise bar girl played by the leggalicious Karen Mok, is rescued but badly injured. The wife of the driver feels it is her responsibility to care for the survivor. Unable to pay for hospital care she takes the woman into her home, a cramped little place accessed via a staircase at the back of some factory. The teenage son of the driver, refusing at first to accept that his father is dead, is not immediately happy sharing his space with the wheelchair bound newcomer nor is he excited by the burden of helping to care for her. But things change. Karen Mok’s fashion choice of hot pants and lace stockings soon arouses feelings of interest from the boy. The mother is both unhappy and fearful of what the budding relationship may reveal.
As the boy begins to open up to the invalid he starts to wonder about her relationship to his father, the circumstances of the accident that left his father missing are seen in a new light. Director Zhang lets the mystery unfold delicately, in the background, without becoming the focus of the film. The spotlight remains on the characters’ changing lives while the mystery remains as unsolved to us as it is unspoken among the characters. Lost Indulgence is a marvelous bit of story telling as well as an engaging slice of life. Pay attention to the photo on the wall of the father.