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Review: Chinese dramedy ‘Duckweed’ winningly goes back to the future

Eddie Peng in the film "Duckweed."
(Chinalion Film Distribution Inc.)

The Chinese family dramedy “Duckweed,” directed by Han Han and written by Yu Meng, is a winsome riff on “Back to the Future.” Race car driver Lang (Chao Deng) wins the race of his career but still harbors a grudge toward his stern father, Zheng (Eddie Peng), who never accepted his dreams. His life flashes before his eyes during a car accident, and goes step one further — Lang travels back in time to before he was born, befriending his youthful, immature father, an affable, cocksure gangster, and getting to know his mother (Liying Zhao), who died when he was a baby.

For all of its serious themes, “Duckweed” has a whimsical, magical realist sensibility, underscored by quirky musical montages and a penchant for American country songs. Peng and Deng as father and son, and later, best friends, are a charming, soulful pair — despite some dodgy old-age makeup on Peng in the film’s bookends.

Lang soon learns that you can’t meddle with fate and ultimately embraces the chance to get to know his parents as people, not authority figures or blurry memories. The film can’t quite figure out how to wrap up, overstaying its welcome with multiple resolutions, but its heart is in the right place, using fantasy to reveal poignant truths about empathy and redemption.

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‘Duckweed’

In Mandarin with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Unrated

Playing: AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; AMC Puente Hills 20, City of Industry

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