Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Film Rolls, Round 12: Lady in a Cage and July Rhapsody

We're at what may be my favorite part of the gameboard here, where American cinema exits the Golden Age and where Hong Kong is hitting its heyday; it's an impressive run of anything-can-happen material, between weird and just generally interesting.

Mookie rolls a 12, getting into this area and finding Lady in a Cage, which is as thoroughly early-1960s a film as one can imagine.

Bruce's 14 gets him into Hong Kong and Ann Hui's July Rhapsody. It's funny; when setting up this board, I thought there might be an Ann Hui section, since it felt like I've been getting one from her with each overseas order, but those orders tend to be more spread out than I remember and maybe I've been watching them as they come in or something, because there's just one or two.

So how'd this work out?

Lady in a Cage

* * (out of four)
Seen 7 September 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

As noteworthy credits go, "Introducing James Caan" is a fun one to spot - or, maybe, a reason to buy a disc, as was probably the case here. Well, that and "if I'm already getting n oddball releases shipped from Australia, might as well get n+1." That he gets the "introducing" credit is kind of interesting, in that someone involved with this movie seems to figure he might develop into something, even if he's just okay here. Middle age would be good to Caan, in that his natural vibe is somewhat experienced but still rough around the edges, and he's not there yet.

The movie itself is a mean little thing, with Olivia de Haviland's title character abrasive and overwhelming enough that one perfectly understands her son's impulse to get as far as he can, but kind of set up to have the audience's sympathy. There's a desperation to her clingines borne of isolation, like the neighborhood has gone to hell around her but she has seen her fortunes dip just enough that she couldn't flee to a nice suburb with the rest of her circle. As the temporary elevator installed in her house goes on the fritz while she's in it, she winds up suspended between groups representing the things folks in her age cohort fear: Weird and disrespectful kids on the one side; the poverty that she may just be a bad break or two away from on the other; all that on top of the technology that's supposed to help her navigate things on her own repeatedly betraying her.

That the film addresses these topics in hysterical fashion isn't really a bad thing - yeah, it kind of looks campy as heck 60 years later (and probably did at the time), but it's nevertheless kind of fitting, as this whole situation is inherently a sort of exaggerated paranoia. The trouble is that it's kind of dull. There are segments where Cornelia is trying to figure out an escape that stir something sort of like suspense, but the filmmakers never really figure out a way to uptrend things just enough to make it interesting while keeping their title in play. The various marauders are just outside terrors rather than being interesting complements to her, especially Caan's goon who apparently wants to graduate to rape and murder just because that's what a young tough wants, right. Everything is there to beset Cornelia, and while part of the point is that she's kind of awful enough to deserve at least a scare, it would work better if she felt like part of the situation.

There's a certain amount of fun in watching de Haviland chew the scenery although a little (less than 94 minutes, perhaps) can go a long way, and there's something intriguing about the cluttered but uninviting space contrasted with the desperate fringes of society. There are moments when the cleverness of the setup is itself kind of satisfying. It just doesn't have quite enough to really work as a feature.

Nam yan 40 (July Rhapsody)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

July Rhapsody is noteworthy for containing Anita Mui's final film performance, and there is something even more poignant about that than might have been expected. She was Hong Kong's biggest star at the time, but here she plays a woman whose marriage is about to disintegrate through no apparent fault of her own, second in the billing to Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau as her husband. The greats can vanish and fade away, swept aside by the passage of time and fickleness.

What's intriguing is that the filmmakers never seem mad at Cheung's Lam Yiu Kwok, a teacher who doesn't particularly resist when his student tries to seduce him. There's a moment or two when that student, played by Karena Lam Ka-Yan, mentions her intentions to become a filmmaker and one wonders, perhaps, if director Ann Hui On-Wah or writer Ivy Ho Bik-Man was drawing from some personal experience there, but that's an awful big presumption. For all I know, one could have simply been reaching the end of a marriage themselves and using the film to explore how, ultimately, these things just end, and one must acquiesce to the inevitable. Raising their son, the thing that required teamwork and commitment, had reached a different phase; with him looking at universities and mostly quietly seeing to himself in his room, and the marriage wasn't compeling for Kwok any more, especially as he sees friends and colleagues a step or two ahead of him in life not happy. He decides not to stay on the path, and it's hurtful, but it's also inevitable.

Cheung is pretty great as Kwok, in large part because Hui never lets him be more than just this guy. He's not exceptionally self-aware, or driven, or foolish, but just someone living his life. He's furtive and frustrated and he lets the audience see him getting weighed down by his affair but not tortured. Mui is quite good, and if she doesn't have as much to do as Cheung, that's part of the tragedy of it; Chan Man Ching is a good and committed person but that's not enough, and there's neither counterbalancing desire nor martyrdom for her, just decency and a moment to be quietly shattered.

This is a movie about the quiet end of something, and Hui is exceptionally good at this sort of thing, making it dramatic but not melodramatic, keeping the audience interested even if the events are subtle.

Kind of an interesting pair, I thing, leaving us with:

Mookie: 39 stars
Bruce: 48 ½ stars

September would become a fairly busy time at the theater and the ballpark, so we'll next pick up with what the guys got up to in October.

No comments: