AKA: Ocean Paradise
Year of release: 2010
Director: Xue Xiao Lu
Producers: Bill Kong, Hao Lee
Writer: Xue Xiao Lu
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle
Editing: William Chang, Yang Hong Yu
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Stars: Jet Li, Wen Zhang, Guey Lun-Mei, Zhu Yuanyuan, Dong Yong, Gao Yuanyuan, Chen Rui
Rated IIA for mild language
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Though it has undoubtedly gotten more attention from critics and fans from all over the world for being Jet Li's first non-action starring role, Ocean Heaven is actually a well-made movie that steps above the gaping pits of melodrama which normally are the bane of this type of this film, ending up giving the audience a picture that is surprisingly touching and affecting at points.
In the movie, Jet plays Xincheng, a widowed father who is trying to take care of his autistic son, Dafu (Wen Zhang), when he is diagnosed with liver cancer. At the end of his rope, he attempts a double suicide by drowning, but Dafu swims away. Xincheng takes this as a sign that he needs to make sure that Dafu can live on his own. Now, at this point, longtime readers of this site, who know my love for ultraviolence and flatulence jokes, might be questioning exactly why the hell I'm giving this film a positive review.
It boils down to that Ocean Heaven is simply a good movie. On the surface, the plot would seem to fit far better with a Lifetime movie starring Fred Savage and Candace Cameron. And in the hands of a different director, we might have very well been "treated" to something so sugary that it would make a Oompa Loompa get diabetes. But director and writer Xue Xiao Lu shows a great deal of restraint here, allowing the characters to develop organically, instead of hitting them over them head with tired tropes like slow-motion montages backed by syrupy ballads.
In the end, is Jet Li going to become a great dramatic actor? Even though he is quite good here, I would still say probably not, but I would love to be proven wrong. As the heroes of Hong Kong film's "golden age" are moving on to middle age, some of them are handling the transition much better than others, and Jet seems to be setting himself up well for the third act of his career. But it's up to movie-makers to trust in Jet enough to not depend on his fists of fury, and for audiences to respond positively to his new and different ventures.