A journalist grapples with existential questions about life and death (and sex and love and money) when faced with her own mortality in “Send Me to the Clouds,” the arresting debut of Chinese writer/director Teng Congcong. The 29-year old reporter, Sheng Nan (Chinese superstar Yao Chen, also a producer on the film), has written off sex and romance for good, devoting herself to her work, when she discovers that she has ovarian cancer. Her obnoxious friend Si Mao (Li Jiuxiao) refuses to lend her money for treatment, wondering, “Who will pay me back?” if she doesn’t survive. Instead, he offers her a gig ghostwriting the memoir of an aging painter, Mr. Li (Yang Xinming), who lives on a remote mountain in the clouds.
Sheng’s earnest, vain mother, Meizhi (Wu Yufang), fed up with her philandering husband and searching for a bit of adventure, decides to tag along with her beautiful, sardonic daughter, and in the misty mountains, the two women encounter romantic connections they never expected. Mr. Li pursues Meizhi, while Sheng Nan is intrigued by a photographer, Liu (Yuan Hong), whom she meets on the ferry. When forced to face the loss of potential future intimacy, Sheng Nan finds her passion reawakened.
This contemplative film is beautifully shot, set in a stunning landscape surrounded by fog and greenery and ancient stone steps. But it’s Yao’s soulful and stirring performance as a complex woman struggling to understand herself — and life itself — that anchors “Send Me to the Clouds,” allowing it to truly soar.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles; starts Sept. 27, AMC Atlantic Times Square, Monterey Park