by Jay Seaver
Yuddy's got a good line; he tells girls he'll remember the very moment they met. He's also got Leslie Cheung's good looks, along with a nice apartment and apparently enough money that he doesn't have to work. He's a charmer, to be sure, but like a lot of charmers, both in the movies and in life, there's something distinctly less appealing behind that charisma. Ladies beware.You can see him working in the opening, as he buys a soda from Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung), a pretty girl working in a stall tucked away in a quiet corner of Hong Kong. She's kind of shy, and seems to know better. But Yuddy's persistent, and makes her feel special, especially since she doesn't seem to get too many customers on any given day. Of course, she doesn't initially know about Yuddy's other girlfriend Mimi (Carina Lau). He's oddly indifferent when the two discover each other, perhaps because he's more concerned about his contentious relationship with his adopted mother (Rebecca Pan), who talks about going to America with her current lover but still refuses to tell him anything about his biological parents. The ladies are still drawn to him, though Li Zhen generally doesn't get further than the policeman patrolling the neighborhood (Andy Lau), while Yuddy's friend Zeb (Jacky Cheung) winds up smitten with Mimi.
"Where Wong Kar-Wai started really being Wong Kar-Wai."
Like many of the films in Wong Kar-Wai's body of work, it's about wanting someone or something you can't have. Yuddy wants to connect with his mother, either the one who gave birth to him or the one who treats him as a kind of pet to be alternately spoiled or reined in. The girls want Yuddy, but he has no strong feelings for either. Zeb wants Mimi, but she's attracted in large part to Yuddy's nice apartment and car. Tide, the cop, wants Li Zhen, but neither of them is able to say so. It's a little sad, on all counts, but these are not unreasonable desires and priorities. Even the self-centered characters aren't intolerably so.
Though Leslie Cheung is the lead, the best chemistry is between Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau. They're the two most fundamentally nice people in the film, and the audience will smile sadly as this fact hinders them. After a while, Li Zhen is obviously coming to Yuddy's neighborhood to see Officer Tide, and he's awaiting her visits and calls, but as long as she's ostensibly there to see Yuddy, neither would be so bold as to make a move on the other. If they're the quiet center, then the most fiery pairing is Leslie Cheung and Rebecca Pan. Both play selfish characters who are not truly aware of their selfishness, and their relationship is contentious. Their dependence upon each other is both carefully arranged and the subject of much resentment.
The movie takes a turn in the latter third, as the action shifts in location and the focus shifts more squarely onto Yuddy. It's an interesting and dangerous change, as Leslie Cheung's character loses none of his confidence but isn't in his element as he was before, and it makes for an interesting bit of tension. He also encounters one of the other characters in a new context, and their interplay in this new setting is interesting.
This is both the first film where Wong and cinematographer Christopher collaborated, and also his first to be set in the 1960s. I've heard his other movies set in this period described as being in their "Days of Being Wild style", but I don't think it quite matches his period films from a decade later (In the Mood for Love, Eros, and 2046 - although certain names and possibly characters will recur). It's a film about younger people, and even if Wong and Doyle are using similar tricks, the atmosphere is more innocent and less overtly sexual. Indeed, what's most interesting about the staging and cinematography is how it's used to denote class. Yuddy's apartment isn't just on an upper floor, but the entire building seems raised from the street. The refreshment stand where we first see Li Zhen is in a nook, as if hidden from the city.
Wong Kar-Wai's script and direction are interesting, as they allow the characters to evolve, but not really change. These people stay true to their nature, and the movie is about allowing us to discover that nature, seeing how people of similar or opposing temperament interact with each other. It's almost like a study in ballistics, with the characters being balls rolled through a given space. Their collisions don't change the balls themselves much, but will change their direction.Wong Kar-Wai is one of the greatest filmmakers working today, and it's here that the themes and style he would become known for really started to take root. Even if you're not particularly interested in the movie's place in film history, it's still a strong drama that's well worth watching.
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originally posted: 05/15/05 15:10:51