Whoa. What’s this? Jet Li starring in a touching drama? This film should play a pretty significant role in Jet Li’s detour from his martial arts filmography. With the kind help of friends and neighbors, widower and aquarium worker Sam Wong (Jet Li) shares a contented life with his autistic 22-year-old son, David (Lunmei Kwai). That is until Sam learns that he has a terminal illness that will soon leave David orphaned. Now, the doting father begins a quest to ensure that his boy will be loved and cared for after his death. As Wang sums up aptly, there is often support for the young and the old in special schools and aged homes respectively, but little services offered for adults with special needs between these ages. This film was a true eye opener and demanded I pay attention to the issues.
This is the kind of stories that make cinema so great and in my opinion this film is much better movie than any of the nominees to best picture movie of this year. This is a great history that don’t use stereotypes as genius children that can break complex codes or make complex mathematics operations in seconds for impress the audience, it is the story of a dying father making the impossible to give his son the possibility of independence before the cancer take his life. There are also messages that the film is passing to the Chinese government. It seems to be a realistic problem China faces with providing support for people who are mentally handicap. This measured approach also allows Li and Zhang to really shine in their performances, as they capture the day-to-day challenges that many families face when caring for someone with special needs. Zhang might have pushed it a little too far once or twice during the film, but overall he plays an autistic boy well.
The journey itself moves along at it’s own pace with segments of Da Fu being taught to survive on his own, while some areas do seem episodic as his progress is lumped into one section. It has been a little while since I’ve seen a good film come out of China and I must say that Ocean Heaven is one. However, amidst the excellent cinematographic work, the story is told in a very slow pace, and sometimes it all feels repetitive. Still, it is a film that tells how misunderstood people with autism are and what such families in China have to go through because the government does not provide help with such children.
Local viewers may draw a parallel with a recent article in the Straits Times that also similarly highlighted a gap in our special-needs welfare system in catering to adults with autism. Though undeniably sentimental in nature, “Ocean Heaven” earns the emotional beats in its contrived scenario, its even handed approach sparing it from becoming another Oscar bait film that tries to wiggle a tear from your eyeball. Especially to the parents of children with special needs who have given themselves continuously to the care of their kids, this is a tribute to the depth of your love, the depth of your heart. For the casual movie goer, there is still a lot to enjoy here and the story is deep enough to suck you in. In the end however, I decided that this is a “must watch” movie for all parents with autistic children. I’ve watched the movie twice now and each time I watched, I discovered a new philosophy in life.