Monday, March 18, 2019

Three Husbands

Just spent a week and a weekend in Hong Kong, and I'm kind of as surprised as anyone how little of my vacation was directly movie-related, given that I'm me, Hong Kong cinema was a major inspiration for the trip, and even local films tend to show with English subtitles there, but what can I say? The Film Archive didn't have much going when I was in the neighborhood, I tended to wear myself down by the end of the day, and Captain Marvel pushed a lot off of the city's screens once it opened (two days before it did in the U.S.). There actually wasn't a whole lot of local film playing at times I wanted to see it. I was really hoping the Jackie Chan picture that opened on the Mainland for Chinese New Year would be around, but nope. Instead, I saw Captain Marvel opening day (it was pouring rain anyway), and nearly screwed that up by going to the wrong theater.

But, walking around on my last day there - always the best way to spend the end of a vacation, I pretty much stumbled onto this:

They were playing host to the European Film Festival, but also had a 7:40pm showing of Three Husbands, the new one from Fruit Chan, and, hey, I'd heard of him. Mostly in terms of his contributions to horror anthologies, with this apparently more typical of his general output (although he's also co-directed at least one action movie with Sammo Hung and has a big-looking action-adventure coming out this year). It was being called the third part of his "prostitute trilogy", but let's be honest - is two movies seventeen years ago plus a new one a trilogy, or just a guy going back to something that worked for him before? I mean, have people been asking him when this was going to come for a decade and a half?

Hey, it was a full house, at least, enough that I was seated in the front row, munching down popcorn for what wasn't really a popcorn movie because I was hungry. Not bad for a Sunday night screening of a movie that seemed to be down to one or two shows a day, and not always the same ones (HK scheduling seems a bit more creative than that in Boston). I'm sure that absolutely everyone there had a better handle on the movie and what it was saying than I did, but you know what - it was Hong Kong as hell, and that's not a bad finale for the trip.

(Oh, one more aside - they asked if I was part of their membership program at both the box office and concession stand but, obviously, I don't join those when I'm just going to be in a country for a week. But when I was going upstairs, I saw that Broadway is apparently owned by AMC by some of the signage, and I started to wonder if my Stubs A-List membership would have gotten me anywhere!)

Anyway, good movie, neat theater - it's got both a video store and a film-related bookshop in there, on top of being a fair place to see a movie. And I highly recommend Hong Kong as a vacation, especially if you've been slurping their movies down for years.

Sanfu (Three Husbands)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 March 2019 in Broadway Cinematheque (first-run, DCP)

I'm not in a position to wonder too much about the critical reception Three Husbands has received in its native Hong Kong; even more than most movies from the region, familiarity with its satirical targets, language, and other pieces of context will almost certainly enhance a picture that is already an impressive bit of independent filmmaking. It's the sort of film that's built to be a critical darling, especially with filmmaker Fruit Chan Gor returning to the sort of thing that first made him his name twenty years ago, maybe flattering the art-house audience a bit.

It opens with "Brother Four-Eyes" (Chan Charm-man) at a brothel just across the water in Zuhai, seemingly making time with a girl who claims to also be from Hong Kong (Larine Tang) before the police raid the place. His shtick involves saying he'd marry a girl, and it seems to be sincere, as he actually pursues Ah Mui (Chloe Maayan), who plies her trade on a boat docked off Lantau Island. Voluptuous and seemingly insatiable, she's too good an earner for "Second Brother" (Chan Man-lei) to let go easy. He eventually relents, but life on land (and off her back) is strange for Mui, while the frequency of their lovemaking is among the things that have their neighbors looking askance.

So, what's the metaphor here? Is Mui Hong Kong, passed between men who both exploit and claim to love her, or is that maybe more the way an outsider would read the situation rather than the sort of movie Chan would make for his neighbors a generation after the handover? Even if that's not it, there's still not a moment involving her or the general set-up that doesn't feel like it's about more; Mui is too blank a slate and the events a little too cheeky for it to just be taken at face value. Chan is certainly talking about the base-level urges of love and sex and how they get mixed up with the commercial, although the specific ways that relates to Hong Kong and the Tanka people never quite snapped into focus.

Full review at EFilmCritic

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