Successful entrepreneur Yuan Yuan is approached by a young woman on the eve of her latest fashion showcase. Keiko, The young girl from Japan has idolized the designers work and practiced fashion as well as Mandarin in hopes of meeting her. The two build a strong connection, but within their conversations and working together, Yuan Yuan begins to recall the past that she left behind and never made peace with.

Wish You Were Here” is screening at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival 

With a renewed determination to confront her past decisions and fears, Yuan Yuan sets off to the village and family she met behind. Hoping to find peace and finally reconcile with her first husband, as well as her mother in law who drove her to her emotional limit and forced her to leave everything behind. Yuan Yuan will have to confront harsh truths about herself in order to reconcile with those in her past and find redemption.

“Wish You Were Here” carries through it a prevailing sense of beauty, that still stays noticeable through the film’s more somber moments. At the forefront of creating this atmosphere is the score by Andre Matthias, with whom Kenneth Bi has worked with on previous productions. With the two working closely together to create the soundtrack during production, as opposed to composing afterwards, it reflects in the film end product with the influence that both had on each other being apparent in the detail and atmosphere created. The combination of the soundtrack with Bi’s visuals melds in a romantic and beautiful way that few productions are able to accomplish. The location work is also notable, with the winter shoots in particular popping under the cinematography of Kenneth Bi. The directors’ skills with the camera comes across as technically strong, with great framing and transitions, and does a superb job of catching both the intimacy between the characters as well as making their environments feel lived in and familiar.

With many international productions seemingly hindering the actors’ performances, “Wish You Were Here” makes great work of its cast with each actor bringing depth and confidence in their given roles. Actor Faye Yu shines as Yuan Yuan, bursting with confidence within her cosmopolitan lifestyle, but able to connect with the emotional past of her character. Osawa Takao, who plays Yuan Yuan’s husband Tomiya, gives a solid performance in being able to tackle the emotional spectrum his character goes through when he reunites with his wife. With both actors having experience on international productions before, the two matches so well together on screen that any perceived cultural or language barrier makes way for what feels like a grounded and sincere connection between two long lost lovers. The rest of the cast rounds out the production well and there is a feeling of sincerity between all the actors, regardless the size of the role.

The biggest criticism that one might take away from the production, is one which will be varied by individual, in that the themes covered within the film are not going to have a broader appeal outside those who may have come across similar life experiences. With themes such as motherhood and struggles with adopted family, the film does not utilize much in the way of sensationalism or varied view points to make its lead more empathetic. However, this does result in a story that feels believable and realistic and could easily be seen as a strength instead of a shortcoming among some viewers.

With my own experience with the film, I will have to admit a certain level of disconnect within the film’s content, having difficulty feeling empathetic or sympathetic towards Yuan Yuan’s plight. This experience will most likely vary between viewers. Although this can be said of practically any film, the struggle between enjoyment of a film’s technical aspects being so strongly at odds with my ability to feel a deeper connection, is not often something I find noticeable. For those who will be able to make a closer connection with the protagonist, I believe the film will feel cathartic as its sincerity and realism still shines through, even within my own personal disconnect with the story.

“Wish You Were Here” showcases Kenneth Bi as a great talent that can command all elements of a production to create a unique and strong creative vision.

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Hello, my name is Adam Symchuk and I am from Canada. It was during my teenage years that I became fascinated with Japanese film, in particular, exploitation and horror. I carried my fascination with the genre with me as an adult and began to grow a deeper appreciation in various genres from Japan, Korea, Thailand, and China. I hope to grow my knowledge of film across Asia and will continue to explore this through my reviews.