LOST AND FOUND
A man is rummaging through the content of a rubbish bin as we are walking down a street. "We" becomes a young woman as she observes the man finally finding what he was looking for: a wallet. As he heads for the nearest restaurant, the portable phone he used to announce the news of his finding is left behind. The woman picks it up and follows him…
The man's calling card shows: MR. LOST AND FOUND COMPANY, Acting Director: That Worm. As he introduces himself to the woman who has found his phone, he explains that the name she seems to have difficulty with is of Mongolian origin ("That Worm" like "Ghengis Khan"), as he himself is. That Worm is an immigrant. His line of work is 'to find what has been lost'. When he senses that the woman he is obviously attracted to may be looking for something, he proposes his services. She replies cynically that she has lost hope; can he find her hope? This sounds like a challenge to him. After some probing, he finds out from his reluctant interlocutress that she is in fact looking for a person.
Earlier, Chai Lam is told that she has leukemia. Yet life goes on. She attends a board meeting of her father's firm (he is a well-known shipping magnate) in order to be interviewed for a position in the enterprise. From where she stands, the shipping company offers her a great opportunity of getting acquainted with the sea, which is what she desires most. At the end of the interview she produces a medical report and discloses her medical condition, emphasizing that it should not affect her work performance as her chances of survival are fairly good. She has chosen this particular occasion to break the news of her condition to her father, the chair of the meeting, as she does not want him to have the opportunity of expressing emotions. She does not want sympathy. She believes as her father does that at the end of the day, one has only oneself to lean on. Man is truly an island. In the wild and untamed ocean of being, one's tears are always wasted.
Lam has won a job in her father's shipyard. Her workplace turns out to be a far cry from what she had imagined. This is a place where ships are built and maintained, not where they sail. Her office is an anchored vessel within which the majestic sea is more an idea than a fact. Yet in this world that is more steel than water she finds some of the magic she is aching for in the person of Ted, a half-Chinese half-Scottish sailor.
Ted, a gentle and caring soul, tells a story of men and women who set sail centuries ago, leaving their homeland behind. Eventually they came across an island at the edge of the world. There they landed and settled. These people were Vikings and their new home was St Kilda, an island North of the coast of Scotland. Ted's grandfather was born there. As he presently explains to a fascinated Lam, the island is nowadays practically deserted; all its inhabitants have migrated to Scotland in search of work. The only reason some may return is to bury their dead.
The story has obvious resonance for the sick young woman. Her condition has made her in some way a migrant herself. All those that were close to her have been left behind, back on the ground she once thought solid. She is alone in the middle of an ocean of despair, hoping for some relief in the storm of impermanence engulfing her existence. She longs for an island to appear in the distance, at the edge of the world. She is looking for a home… to bury her dead.
Ted can tell that Lam is attracted to him, yet he also perceives a certain reticence. Powerless to lift the veil of melancholy she wears like a bride, he is considerate enough not to exploit the vulnerability he senses in her. He bows out of her emotional space graciously as she herself leaves his cabin. When she seeks him again later, he is gone.
Ted has disappeared without a trace and with him, the magic. The shipyard is grayer than ever. Not that it matters as Lam has lost her job (her father was concerned about her health). Life is bleak. Bleaker still when her treating doctor recommends a new course of treatment involving powerful drugs and possibly debilitating side effects. Moments later, the bag full of medicine she discards in a rubbish bin as she is walking down the street contains the last remnants of her hopes. She has made a choice. She is giving up. It is at this fateful juncture that an excited young man appears and starts rummaging through the bin's content.
Back to the present, Chai Lam convinced by Mr. Worm's apparent efficiency hires him to help her find Ted. Knowing the reasons for her wanting to find the missing sailor would greatly help him in his job, or so he tells her, yet explanations are not forthcoming. Lam is unwilling to reveal anything about herself. Notwithstanding, they begin their search. There are many sailors' hostels…
As the hours pass and their efforts remain fruitless, Lam's initial enthusiasm starts to wane, especially when That Worm in reply to her interrogation admits that his rate of success is around ten percent. Yet her following accusation that he is a swindler, raising his clients' expectations while knowing all along that the odds are stacked firmly against them is misguided. He knows that what people are looking for far beyond what they have lost is a sense of purpose, the feeling that all is not lost. The anguish felt when losing the object of one's desire is really the anguish of losing oneself. At the heart of each and every individual lies a lost soul crying to be heard. That Worm cares. Yet, as much as he would like to know Lam better, he is unable to bring her out of herself. The guessing game he plays with his mysterious employer as he tries to find out clues as to her identity succeeds only in exasperating her. Nevertheless his determination in helping her find the missing sailor remains unshakable.
That Worm's steadfastness eventually wins the day when they finally find Ted who is both surprised and pleased to see Lam. While a taxi is waiting for him, the man who up until now had been a seaman explains that he has to return to Scotland to take care of his grandfather's inn. The old man has just died and he wants to take his ashes back to his homeland. Time is of the essence as the taxi driver becomes impatient; an island beckons. On the spur of the moment Lam asks Ted if he would take her to edge of the world. Ted is overjoyed. Arrangements are made: he will go first and take care of his grandfather's business, then she will meet him there. Ted and "Mr. Worm" are introduced, and then the magician is gone…
The next day, Lam visits That Worm in his office to express her gratitude and to pay his fees. She is welcomed like a member of the family by Ming, That Worm's friend and employee. The three of them share a meal. Eventually she offers to help them in their business, as she is free until her departure for Scotland. In a reversal of situation, it is now "Mr. Worm" who hires Lam.
Lam has now embarked upon a voyage of self-discovery that will eventually take her metaphorically as well as physically to the edge of the world. In her involvement with the Lost and Found Company she is confronted with her own grief, as she gradually perceives in others the all-pervasive sense of loss she herself feels. In the harsh world she shares with the vulnerable and the wounded, existence is at best precarious. She is deeply moved by the resilience of the human spirit those she identifies with display as they are faced with adversity, yet her powerlessness in helping them (and herself) shames her. She needs to get away. She cannot bring herself to acknowledge the failure of magic in keeping life's impermanence at bay.
Lam's soul is heavy enough as it is. When her physical condition takes a turn for the worse, That Worm's emotional vulnerability as they both have grown fond of each other breaks her heart. She cannot bear the thought of hurting him, as she believes she will when contemplating her own passing. As she retreats in herself, she still holds the childlike belief that pain can be circumscribed and smothered. Sadly she does not realize that by trying to save him from the pain of losing her, she only amplifies the loss. That Worm is broken-hearted.
As Lam recovers slowly from the latest worsening of her condition, her journey to the edge of life so to speak is about to begin. When she finds herself hiking across the majestic yet desolate Scottish landscape, she cannot help but ask herself while thinking about Ted's people, "if this is the new world they left their homeland for, what kind of god-forsaken place did they leave behind?"
In the beginning we had everything. Then we were born and something was irretrievably lost. Under the most unfavorable conditions, we set sail toward the sunset. As the clouds gathered in the distant sky, we never lost hope. An island in the distance was beckoning us all.
We will find this island. We will build this house. We will make this love. We will never die.
Lam's story does not end here. To find what was lost, she has to know what was lost; she has to let herself be found. She has to die so to speak in order to live. She has to chose life. The real magic.
Everyone has to lose in order to find. It is in the sharing of the loss that love can be found. And nurtured. The birth of love is a difficult process. Lam knows…
As the closing credits roll on the screen at the end of Lost and Found, the same documentary footage that opened the film is shown again. There is however a significant difference; the sequence is in colour. Life has taken upon itself the vividness of dreams. Love has been revealed.
"Dance me to the end of love" sings Leonard Cohen once again as the film closes. He is one of us. For the sake of us all, may his prayer be heard.
Yet in the final analysis, Lost And Found would not be the profoundly moving film it definitely is without the contribution of Lee Chi-Ngai. The depth and intelligence of his screenplay, coupled with his authoritative yet sensitive direction (witness, the performance of Michael Wong Mun-Tak, an actor not particularly renown for his acting abilities) are in my view the most outstanding achievements of a most remarkable film.