The film essentially tells the story of two friends--Leah Quinn (Catherine Kellner), a romantically frustrated young American woman working at an English-language Beijing newspaper, and Richard Kao (David Wu), a Chinese-American beach bum with little appreciation for his Chinese heritage. When Richard arrives in Beijing to fulfill his grandfather's dying wish that his ashes be returned to his home village, the visit sets in motion events through which both will ultimately experience the bliss of whirlwind romance in exotic surroundings.
Unlike Mark Salzman's autobiographical 1990 film, "Iron & Silk," which sought very seriously to understand Eastern ways through Western eyes, "Restless" seems more interested in China as an unconventional backdrop for a conventional youth romance. Closer in story and spirit to Hollywood fluff than anything resembling a Chinese art film, "Restless" joins a long line of well-made but hopelessly mediocre tales of Westernized youths "searching for themselves" in faraway lands.
Written and directed by USC film school and Beijing Film Academy graduate Jule Gilfillan, and financed through an arrangement between Southern California-based producer Peter Shiao and a Beijing-based rock music company, it's no surprise that the film ignores anything that might be considered remotely controversial, taking the easy way out wherever possible. Cultural détente, however, comes with a considerable price. By wallowing in soapy emotions just non-specific enough to have some semblance of cross-cultural appeal, the filmmakers run the risk of never asking their characters to make sufficiently forceful decisions about their own lives. And if they don't care enough to make the effort, audiences won't either. Starring Catherine Kellner, David Wu, Sarita Choudhury, Geng Le, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Josh Lucas and Matthew Faber. Directed and written by Jule Gilfillan. Produced by Peter Shiao. An Arrow release. Romantic Drama. English and Mandarin-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 99 min.