Sometimes people get caught up in the drama of their own lives such that they take for granted the lives of others. In a given day, we come into contact with a number of people, and unfortunately, our inhernet self-centredness lead us to often dismiss those people as the main characters of their respective lives, and instead, see them as nothing more than supporting characters in our own. Everyone has a story; it’s almost like an online RPG, except that in the real world, we can’t “right-click” on people we meet and immediately know everything about them.
In Bends, a Chinese-language film by debut director Flora Lau, this separation of lives is examined closely between two characters, each from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum in Hong Kong. Fai, a chauffeur, and his employer, Anna, are often in close proximity of each other during the day, but their respective lives outside of shared moments in the BMW are completely isolated descents into hopelessness and uncertainty. Fai’s pregnant wife draws ever closer to delivering her second child, and he struggles to obtain money in order to circumvent his government’s one-child policy and financial restrictions. Anna’s rich husband disappears from her out of the blue, taking all of her money and her apartment with him, and she is left trying to make ends meet while keeping up appearance with her friends in high society.
Slowly, but surely, their parallel lives fall further into despair, and yet Lau manages to keep their plights as separate for as long as possible, until the very last moment when the two of them are on the verge of meltdown. Most dual-character dramas between people of opposite genders are often done with a romantic approach; however, Bends manages to avoid romance entirely, showing that people can relate to each other without having to fall in love with each other. It stresses the importance of communication as a means of reaching out to others and truly connecting with them on an emotional level, and due to the suffocating, isolated nature of modern day China/Hong Kong, this movie drills the point home so effectively, mostly through visual composition and pacing.
It’s so easy to simply say that communication can be the cornerstone of any relationship between two people, romantic or otherwise, that the very notion and advice feels exhaustingly rhetoric in nature, and easily dismissed. I’ve come to value communication so highly that I can’t take it for granted, yet, having watched this film I can’t help but feel like I should be doing more. Seeing the relationship evolve between Fai and Anna immediately reminded me of my own relationship with my own supervisor at work.
I’ve worked at my current place of employment for nearly 3 years, and during that entire time, I’ve never seen my supervisor more than just my supervisor. She was simply a higher-up who I reported to, and our relationship was nothing more than that between employee and employer. We had our ups and downs with regards to my performance, but I never once doubted that she was simply trying to make the most of my abilities on the team, and put me in positions where I could most likely succeed and build my career.
It wasn’t until recently, when I decided with my soon-to-be fiancée that we were going to move in together, that leaving this job in order to move to the United States became a real possibility. I did my due diligence as a professional to inform my supervisor ahead of time of my plans to eventually leave this job once I found an adequate employment opportunity in the city where I would be moving. I told her about my relationship, and how serious I was in taking the next step in it, and the reaction that I received from my supervisor was nothing short of glowing. She was unbelievably happy, and quite apparently, far in personality and emotion from the person who I knew all these years.
She was happy for me, and she directly supported my own life and personal decisions. We proceeded to talk about her own marriage with her husband, and the family that she now has the privilege of coming home to every night. She opened up about her recent stress on the job, trying to tackle a huge project behind the scenes of day-to-day operations, such that hearing about my own progression in my life was a source of happiness for her; nowadays, with my visit to my girlfriend coming up, she’s living vicariously through my anticipation for my trip, and demands that I keep her up to date with anything happening in my life, including my experiences with TIFF this past week.
I couldn’t be happier about this development, and yet, I feel regret in not having done this sooner. I suppose there wasn’t anything I could do anyway; there wasn’t much happening in my life until I got together with my girlfriend, and even then it wasn’t anything to write home about until we decided that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. When I leave my job, I’m going to miss my manager, and even though my relationship with her didn’t expand beyond the professional until recently, I feel as if my time spent here did not go to waste.
Fai and Anna didn’t get any closer than they needed to. They simply learned a little bit about each other, and resonated emotionally as soon as their lives crossed paths; if it weren’t for this, their ability to overcome their own obstacles wouldn’t have been realized. I don’t believe that I needed to open up to my supervisor, but I certainly feel more fulfilled in my professional and personal life now that it’s happened. She is a human being with her own story, as am I, as are Fai and Anna. Everyone has their own story, and it’s never too late to learn about them. Bends communicates this idea perfectly, and is my favourite film of the Toronto International Film Festival because of it.