Sunday, December 06, 2015

Romances from China & Hong Kong: Fall in Love Like a Star and She Remembers, He Forgets

Much smaller crowd for She Remembers, He Forgets than Fall in Love Like a Star, and I wonder what the main factor is. Fewer trailers? Mandarin/China vs Cantonese/Hong Kong? One coming out the same day it did in Asia, the other coming out a month later? One starting at 7pm, the other at 10pm?

Who knows? I do know that I found the difference between Mainland and Hong Kong films that night kind of fascinating, espeicaly since Fall in Love was a very glossy movie set in the middle of the entertainment industry, getting the most beautiful shots of Shanghai possible, whereas She Remembers really seemed to have no problem showing the working-class parts of Hong Kong. Beyond that, there's an anarchic sense that anything can happen in She Remembers that seldom seems to appear in Chinese movies - satire, everyday rudeness, that sort of thing.

Hopefully, Meida Asia and the other HK companies do a bit more to get their movies in world theaters quickly. The Chinese and Taiwanese movies have been fun, but I think a lot of us who love pan-Chinese cinema fell in love with HK movies first, and when you consider that the Hong Kong film industry is shrinking incredibly as so much of its talent casts their eyes northward at a market where you can get a billion extra eyeballs if you just play by the rules, maybe the extra revenue from getting a few viewers in foreign territories would actually make a difference to those filmmakers more so than the Chinese ones. I'd rather get movies with a little more bite than the shiny but kind of bland movies coming from China.

Peng ran xing dong (Fall in Love Like a Star)

* * (out of four)
Seen 4 December 2015 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

Do you ever feel frustrated watching a movie and think, come on, this shouldn't be so hard - you've got a couple attractive young stars, a decent hook, and ninety minutes to play it out; how hard can a decent romantic comedy be? The next step after that is wondering if the people making it had the same thought and left it at, because Fall in Love Like a Star sure feels like the outline of a good movie that misses the in-between bits that would make it sing.

Both Su Xingyu (Li Yifeng) and Tian Xin (Yang Mi) were on the fringes of the music business five years ago - him babysitting instruments he's not allowed to play at a club, her trying to get the show running. They soon became closer ever if he is planning to go to the UK to study, and now... Well, he's one of the biggest stars in China, but a difficult one, and when he clashes with super-agent Mei (Chen Shu), she tells him to see if he'll do better with any other agent at the company. His eyes land on new hire Tian, but tells his former girlfriend that he chose her specifically to make her life miserable. It didn't end well, apparently.

This may not be a great premise, but it's a good one - it's got room for some pretty out-there gags without having to pretend that is going to head anywhere other than its inevitable destination. It's even got room to pivot when Su being a jerk gets tiresome, still having room to spoof the excesses and regimentation of the modern entertainment industry once the pair do get together. When it's on those tracks, it can be quite funny, between the costar who has a serious crush on a completely uninterested Su and Tian trying to navigate the unreasonable demands of the business she's in. There's more than a smattering of funny situations there.

Full review on EFC.

She Remembers, He Forgets

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 December 2015 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

The recent influx of Chinese movies directly into American theaters has been an exciting development, although sometimes the variety has been wanting: Not only have almost all of the movies been Mandarin-language selections from Taiwan and the mainland, but there have been an awful lot of nostalgic romances that started to run together. Initially, She Remembers, He Forgets looks like Hong Kong getting in on the same action, but if it is, it's doing so in a way that strips a lot of easy sentimentality out and leaves something a little more interesting behind.

Like many of these movies, it features a woman in "Gigi" Yu Feng-zi (Miriam Yeung Chin-wah) who has perhaps not set the world on fire since graduating high school twenty years ago; she's been working in the same travel agency for so long that her boss forgets just how long it's been (fifteen years) and she barely sees her husband Pang Shing-wah (Jan Lamb Hoi-fung) when he is home from work - and she doesn't even know about Lina (Ranya Lee) in Shanghai. Gigi and Shing-wah have been together since high school, back when Gigi (Ceilia So) was a new transfer who caught the eye of both "Mister Handicraft" Shing-wah ("Neo" Yau Hawk-sau) - cooler and more handsome than the nickname sounds - and his best friend So Bok-man (Ng Siu-hin), the bespectacled head of the airplane club. Hearing that Bok-man never married after leaving high school the day of the big open house, Gigi finds herself feeling even more dissatisfied.

It's amazing, in some ways, just how untainted by nostalgia She Remembers, He Forgets is despite the undercurrent of Gigi wondering how her life might have changed had she made a different decision when she was a teenager, and a large part of what makes the movie interesting is that the decision is not the one a viewer might expect, at least not directly. Flashing back twenty years in Hong Kong doesn't just put new songs on the soundtrack or different fashions on the girls, but places the characters in the lead-up to 1997's handover, when it seems like all of their more fortunate classmates have either emigrated or seen their families make plans to do so. Class is an attempt to smother dreams, as everybody is asked to write out five to ten year plans encouraging modest goals and step-by-step plans for accomplishing them. And what's more than that, nothing has changed since then - when Gigi finds her way back to Ying Yan College, the uniforms are exactly the same, the girls wear the same ponytails and the boys the same glasses, the classrooms seem to have only the most minor of upgrades, and the teachers and caretakers from her years are still there but forgetful. For today's mid-thirties Hong Kong residents, their teen years weren't neary so much days when everything seemed possible, but when the future could seem a trap, and the present the result of being caught in it.

Full review on EFC.

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