March 2, 2012

Blu-ray Review: Ocean Heaven

Generally speaking, I cannot say I have ever watched a Jet Li movie for the acting. I never looked at him as much of an actor, I mean my earliest exposures to him did not exactly reveal a charismatic leading man. What he could do was kick enormous amounts of ass with his impressive martial arts skills. My first time seeing him was his Hollywood debut, Lethal Weapon 4. He did not say much but he certainly made an impression. Many of his Hong Kong films rank among the top martial arts movies ever made. Now we have him in a purely dramatic role in Ocean Heaven.

It certainly is a change of pace for the legendary screen martial artist, although not wholly unexpected. In recent years, he seems to be taking roles that require a bit more acting, or allow him to try and act a bit more. The first examples that come to mind are Danny the Dog (aka Unleashed) and Fearless. These are quite different in tome and still involve fighting, but the character arcs allow him to stretch a bit more.then he stated he was no longer going to star in wushu films. He certainly seems serious in creating another stage of his career. Ocean Heaven certainly does that.

Ocean Heaven is a drama that requires no fisticuffs, no fighting of any kind as a matter of fact. This is a purely dramatic film, ordering on melodrama at times. It is also a very good film. It is a story about love,about the familial bond, and about struggling to protect your loved ones and care for them at all costs. It is a sweet film that is sure to touch your heart.

The movie tells the story of an aquarium supply manager named Wang (Li) and his autistic son, Dafu (Wen Zhang). Wang is a widower who has dedicated his life to his son. The thing is that there lives take a drastic turn when Wang learns he is terminally ill, stage four liver cancer. He has essentially been given a death sentence with only a few months to live. This news, which Wang keep hidden from his son, causes him great distress, which he also keeps hidden. He know dedicates his remaining time to two things, first is trying to find someplace that will care for him when he is gone, and second he wants to teach Dafu to be cable to care for himself.

Ocean Heaven, written and directed by Xiao Lu Xue, spends a lot of time on the relationship between Wang and Dafu. It is one of dedication, patience, and genuine caring. It feels very real, and while I am unsure as to the accuracy of how autism is portrayed, the movie does a fine job of drawing you in and caring about them and the struggles they face. It does not hurt that Li and Zhang have great chemistry, it is easy to look at them and see father and son.

This is a slow and deliberately paced film that relies on the performances to carry it through and Li offers a touchingly subdued performance that captures a range of emotions and is likely the best acting the star has offered to date.

Now, it is not a perfect movie by any stretch. At times I felt it was a touch melodramatic and I suspect there are cultural differences in how I perceive it. Still, it is hard to dislike this movie as it is so touching and genuine. It looks at a believable situation through the eyes of everyday characters.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and generally looks pretty good. While it looks good, generally speaking, it is far from the best looking Blu-ray. The movie feels as if it went through a good deal of filtering and smoothing. The image seems rather natural but is pretty soft throughout and all the colors tend towards the bluer end of the spectrum. Detail is there but it it never strikes me as being all that sharp and images tend to get lost in the darker sequences.

Audio comes in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and performs solidly. This is not a demo track as this is a quiet, dialogue driven movie. The surrounds are used during a couple of sequences, including the opening rowboat scene, and does a nice job of filing the soundfield, but this is still an intimate dialogue driven affair and it handles that quite well.

Extras. There is not much in the way of extra material. There is an 11-minute making of filled with clips of the film along with some interview footage and a pair of trailers. That's all there is!

Bottomline. What can I say other than this is a sweet movie. It injects a certain melodrama into the drama and works hard to show the relationship experience of a father and autistic child. It does not shy from the difficulties and puts the necessary patience on display. Let also say that I wonder about th opening scene and if we should accept all that we see or don't see, that would put an interesting spin on the proceedings. I will let you see it and see if you see what I am speaking of.


Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Ocean Heaven on Blogcritics


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