January 25th - February 01st

Lunch With Charles
Starring Sean Lau and Bif Naked. Rated PG.

Opens Friday, January 26, at the Cinemark Tinseltown.

By Ken Eisner

There’s much bittersweet charm, and a fair amount of padding, in Lunch With Charles, a romantic comedy with multicultural overtones. The title refers to the misapprehensions of Tong (Sean Lau), a Hong Kong musician who imagines his wife, April (Theresa Lee), dining with all manner of white guys. Actually, she’s been toiling away at a promotions job in Vancouver while waiting three years for him to get off his hot pot and head over. Tong finally arrives, but it’s just as April heads into the Interior with her half-Chinese assistant (Rumble in the Bronx star Françoise Yip) and their new client, an Irish beer manufacturer (Bruce Sweeney veteran Tom Scholte) who is intent on having a Celtic rock band help push his swill in Canada. The hesitant émigré is taken in by a backwoods B & B–running couple, the conflicted Buddhist Matthew (Vertical Limit’s Nicholas Lea) and former rocker Natasha (Bif Naked), who’s just about ready to fly their hippie nest. It turns out she used to sing with said band, and when she gets an invitation from their manager—who just happens to be named Charles—to rejoin the throng, she heads off to hook up with them in Banff.

So does everyone else, and the movie consists primarily of two-handers, mostly in cars, with Tong haltingly talking to Natasha, the uptight April stuck with Matthew, and the assistant putting up with the beer man’s bad moods. There’s some attractive use of the West’s wide-open spaces, but the foreground chatting can be claustrophobic. Although they reveal much about the characters, the conversations occasionally belabour the obvious. Subplots, when they occur at all, tend to resolve themselves quickly and without much drama. And the heat hinted at between the various leads could have been turned up a few notches.

In her first sustained role, Naked acquits herself well, even if she lacks the range a seasoned professional would have provided. Lea is okay with Lee, an appealing Edmontonian who struggles to maintain a Hong Kong accent, and the supporting players are fairly inventive with writer-director Michael Parker’s narrowly defined material. What gives the film soul is the time spent with Lau, an introspective actor with considerable charisma. Think Chow Yun-Fat’s sober visage with Benicio Del Toro’s eyebrows. You can figure that his people will soon be doing lunch in Hollywood.