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Written By
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by Jay Seaver

"A weird and wonderful solo effort from Wai Ka-fai."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: Last year, I saw Wai Ka-fai as a guest at another film festival, and as one might expect, most of the questions in the extended Q&A were about his collaborations with Johnnie To. "Written By" didn't play until later in that festival, after I'd gone home, which is a shame - it's a film I would have really liked to hear him talk about.

A family is involved in a horrific car accident; it leaves father Tony (Lau Ching-wan) dead and daughter Melody blinded. Despite that, they survive; mother Mandy (Kelly Lin) returns to school for her graduate degree, and ten years later, Melody (Mia Yam) is a promising young writer. But a pall still hangs over the family, so Melody proposes an odd form of therapy: She will write a novel, in which--

A family is involved in a horrific car accident; father Tony (Lau Ching-wan) is the only survivor, and he's been blinded. Though his Filipino housemaid Maria (Yeung Shuk-man) helps him handle day-to-day activities, he has become reclusive and withdrawn. He decides on an odd form of therapy: He will write a novel, in which--

Wai and co-writer Au Kin-yee don't quite create the ouroboros of a screenplay you might imagine from that description; that would be, in a way, too straightforward and confining. Instead, they create a layered story about dealing with grief and survivor's guilt which effectively shows how the departed can still linger in the minds of those who love them. It also allows the film to go off on some pretty wild flights of fantasy, and even get away with things happening in the plotline that might otherwise seem to be a little much. By the end of the movie, things have gotten very strange indeed, but the emotion of it is so grounded that it almost seems to be the logical extension of what has happened before.

If you're going to do that, it doesn't hurt to have Lau Ching-wan in a major role. Last seen being incredible in the Wai/To collaboration Mad Detective's title role, Lau takes on a bit of a dual role, doing a nice job of separating the two versions of Tony that we see while making both come to life. When the walls of reality start to crumble, he gives off just the right combination of confusion and resolve.

Mia Yam isn't bad as his opposite number in the other world. Melody is put through the grinder just as much as Tony, if not more so, and while she doesn't give quite so nuanced a performance as Lau, it's an earnest and emotional one. The supporting casts in all worlds is uniformly good; Kelly Lin, especially, does a nice job of playing a fictitious version of the same character without going too far overboard. Jo Kuk is also a late treat as Meng Por, a sort of Chinese Charon figure who finds herself thoroughly annoyed by what a mess this family has made out of reality.

Written By is also, especially once the truly fantastical settings start to appear, rather gorgeous to look at. Even before those kick in, cinematographer Wong Wing-hung does a fine job of shooting both Hong Kong and the apartment where much of the film takes place, and art director Alex Mok does a very nice job of helping to create the worlds that the characters inhabit, whether they be real, surreal, or utterly fantastical. It's a frequently strange place, but also one that looks like home.

Wai Ka-fai takes all these fine bits of raw material and ties them together into a film that is both sad and thrilling, and occasionally funny and sweet. It's confusing at times - there were moments when I wanted it to slow down just a little so that I could sort out what was real, imaginary, fictional, and potential - but does, as it ends, have some logical and emotional solidity to it. It's a really fine little fantasy.

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originally posted: 07/23/10 01:07:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: New York Asian Film Festival 2009 For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Wai Ka-fai

Written by
  Wai Ka-fai

  Lau Ching-Wan
  Kelly Lin
  Mia Yan

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