The wonderfully weird Canadian drama “Queens of the King Dynasty” understands disorder the way Bell Hicks did: a “self that is at odds with everything around it.” Directed by Ashley MacKenzie, like a dream — or a breakup — the film is a love story, absent sex or romance, between a teenage psychopath in Nova Scotia, Starr (Sarah Walker), and a Shanghai exchange student. About who is volunteering at the hospital. , one (Xian Zeng). The pair make an odd couple, and yet their bond is intuitive, electric.
As the story begins after the star attempts suicide, the film’s tone is at once clinical and deadpan funny. Starr, a neurodivergent foster child with a wry sense of humor, clearly does not register the gravity of his actions. The eyes are glazed over, he seems out of his body, and he doesn’t conform to the rules, such as when he leaves an apartment that has been opened for parties. Finally, she is institutionalized.
Walker, charmingly raw, makes Starr both charming and desperate in his loneliness. Cinematographer Scott Moore shoots in close-ups that blur at the edges, while Andreas Mandritzky’s eerie sound design makes the chilly location of Cape Breton on Mars feel like life on Mars, close to a startling perspective of the star.
Ann, an ambitious international student with blade-long nails, dreams of change, and—through a kind of buddy system—connects with Star, regaling him with tales of ancient Chinese courtiers, sinister, charming dames. Who never have to work. The two communicate via text: one sends videos of her singing with her face beautified through a filter; Star, a series of messages and voicemail messages that are usually unacknowledged. He doesn’t seem to mind and Ann isn’t put off by them either. They separate and reunite and separate again.
Separated from their communities, the two embody a different kind of relationship, and McKenzie doesn’t rely on the usual uplifting messaging and taut empowerment arcs to humanize An and Star. In a pretty unusual scene, the pair stop by a virtual reality gaming studio and, equipped with headsets, plug into the fantasy, playing as flying wizards shooting the breeze. Their friendship remains mysterious, yet the film, as if by magic, makes their connection feel palpable and true.
Queens of the Qing Dynasty.
Not rated. In English, Mandarin and Russian, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes. In theaters.