China and Australia: Two great tastes that taste great together! That seems to have been the impetus behind 33 Postcards, a clunky hybrid—half feel-good weepie, half preposterous thriller—that functions primarily as an elaborate travel brochure for both countries. This sort of global co-production is becoming more and more common, but it’s rarely quite so calculated; you can practically see the scale being used to ensure that each location receives equal narrative weight, as characters take actions that make sense only according to that metric. Most of the title’s 33 postcards are never seen, but two would suffice: one of Australia’s spectacular coastline and another of China’s rolling hills and verdant mountains. They’d get the point across without subjecting people to saccharine idiocy masquerading as drama.
But no. Instead, we get newcomer Zhu Lin as a spunky Chinese orphan who’s been receiving loving correspondence and money her entire life from an Australian park ranger (Guy Pearce) serving as her sponsor. When Lin’s youth choir travels to Sydney for a performance, she naturally seeks Pearce out, only to find that he’s been lying to her the entire time—he’s actually in prison on a manslaughter rap. (Don’t worry, he didn’t mean to kill anyone, and feels terrible about it.) Unfazed, Lin impulsively decides to run away from her guardians and remain with Pearce, who’s conveniently about to be paroled. But before he’s released, the girl’s naïveté gets her embroiled with a ring of car thieves (including Pearce’s brother), forcing her surrogate dad to testify against the prison’s shank-happy psychopath in an effort to cut a deal that’ll spring him in time to save her. And will she make it in time for the climactic Sino-Australian choral extravaganza?
Given that the movie’s very premise is absurd—no results found for “prisoners sponsoring children,” says Google, which also returns zero hits for “prisoners with more money than they know what to do with”—it’s probably not worth nitpicking the other improbable aspects. But they include a lawyer (Claudia Karvan) instantly securing Lin “temporary protection status” (which was meant for refugees fleeing persecution, and was abolished in 2008 in any case), and car thieves bringing some perpetually goofy foreign kid on a job and then screaming at her on the street while the theft is actually taking place. Even the normally reliable Pearce seems adrift in this ridiculous context, indulging in far more twitching and grimacing than a strong director would allow. And those imagining there’ll be any suspense about whether Lin will choose to remain in Australia or return to China clearly didn’t pay sufficient attention to all the financing information in the opening credits.