A grieving mother attempts to redefine her life by caring for the children of others in Ka Sing Fung’s poignant maternal drama, Lost Love (流水落花). Filled with boundless compassion, the film in part explores the sense of otherness felt by lonely children often rejected by the society around them, while allowing the wounded heroine to find a way to love again in the midst of her heartbreak, even if what she’s signed up for amounts to a cycle of perpetual loss. 

Mei (Sammi Cheng Sau-Man) lives an ordinary life working a series of unsatisfying and poorly paid jobs while her husband Bun works as a driver. Gazing at an empty room that might once have belonged to a child, we can feel a sense of loss and absence in the couple’s apartment while another young woman, Miss Mok (Hedwig Tam Sin-Yin), takes a cursory look around and seems to find everything in order pausing only to advise they give up smoking, at least in front of the children. Mei has decided that she wants to become a foster mother, but Bun does not seem entirely onboard complaining that he’s only really been “advised” of her decision rather than actively asked for his opinion. 

As is later revealed, Bun and Mei lost their three year-old son to illness and though Bun would have preferred to continue trying to have another child of their own, Mei is afraid to in case the same thing happens again. Yet the irony is that in becoming a foster mother she has signed herself up for repeated loss. The children who come to her do so temporarily and only until such time as they can be returned to their guardians or adopted by other families. After bonding with one little girl, Mei considers adoption but is told that it is not really permitted within the fostering system and she will have to resign herself to letting the child the go. 

Meanwhile, many of the children have specific needs and are often struggling to deal with the circumstances which led to them needing foster care. The first little boy Mei takes in, Sam, barely says a word and wets himself in stressful situations. When he stands up to a bully in school, he’s the one who gets into trouble with the teacher who makes prejudicial statements about “these kinds of kids” as if he’s already written him off. Sam poignantly reveals that the other kids were making fun of him for not having any parents leaving him additionally isolated and further damaging his already disrupted education. Another little girl, Hana, says something similar unwilling to go to school as the other children reject her because she has cleft palate. Ching, by contrast, is rejected by her own mother who seems to have remarried and had other children, palming her off on a grandmother who is unable to care for her while hospitalised. Two other children stay with Mei while their father is in prison, later describing Bun as the kindest man they’ve ever met while explaining that they were previously pushed from pillar to post bounced around between relatives who grew tired of caring for them. 

Even so, the foster care arrangement places a further strain on the couple’s marriage. Bun is at times resentful of the attention Mei gives to the children while still on the fence about fostering even at one point suggesting they simply get a dog instead. Yet despite everything Mei remains committed to caring for the children who come her way some of whom have no one else to care for them, helping them to gain the strength to keep living in the world and to feel less alone even in the face of unfair social prejudice. Ka tells her tale in elliptical fashion, pushing forward over a number of summers as different children occupy Mei’s spare room while she herself grows old but still determined to continue looking after kids in need. A repeated motif of falling petals hints at the temporality of all things, but also as they fall into the river a poignant sense of generational flow as Mei gently supports the children until they can support themselves and she can give no more leaving love behind her even in her absence.

Lost Love screens in Chicago April 1 as part of the 16th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

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