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Echoes of the Rainbow
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by Jay Seaver

"As familiar as an echo, but as pleasant as a rainbow."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: Many filmmakers produce a movie like "Echoes of the Rainbow" at some point in their careers. It's an autobiographical story set in the place and time of the writer/director's youth, and though I'm not sure whether it's actually better than most or just less familiar (I can go a long time before seeing another New York teenager grow up with the mafia on the periphery), I liked this one. It's a love letter to Alex Law's youth, but a clear-eyed and well-made one.

The Laws live above their shop at one end of a quiet Hong Kong street. Mr. Law (Simon Yam) makes the shoes; his wife (Sandra Ng Kwan Yue) sells them. They have two sons. The younger, "Big Ears" (Buzz Chung), is about seven or eight years old and our narrator; he's a troublemaker in school and likes to nick things out of it. Older brother Desmond (Lee Chi-ting) is an excellent student and athlete at a private English-language school. He's seeing a nice girl, Flora (Evelyn Choi). Money-wise, the Laws don't have much, but they have a roof over their heads. A typhoon threatens that, but it's what they discover afterward that shakes them more.

The street that the Laws live on in Echoes of the Rainbow is a real place; it was actually marked for preservation rather than demolition after the film's success at the box office. What we're seeing in the movie, of course, is a bit of a fairy-tale version of the place, but Law isn't hiding that; he occasionally edits in snippets of home movies that show it as much more crowded and somewhat dingier. It's actually a nice effect, acknowledging that we're seeing the story nostalgically, from the perspective of young Big Ears, but also showing that the reality does not actually contradict his experiences.

The story is small-scaled, taking place against a backdrop of Hong Kong in the 1960s rather than placing the Laws at the front line of well-known local events, with the possible exception of the typhoon (from the amount of destruction, I hope that was an exceptional case, as opposed to what Hong Kong's residents have to go through several times each season!). The economy's not great, the local corruption makes it worse, and certain tensions are causing those who can get out to do so. It's focused, not obviously striving to make the point that the problems facing the Laws are parallels for the ones facing the whole colony, but showing a believable sample. There's something almost fitting about how Desmond's favorite song on the radio is played by the Monkees; the Laws aren't big-time enough to be represented by the Beatles.

They're humble, but good company, if imperfect people. Buzz Chung is completely natural on camera; if he has a natural tendency toward mugging, Law holds him in check. In fact, for all that he's presented as an innocent and unspoiled character, he cries a lot and does other things that remind the audience that kids, when not being cute and awesome, can really be kind of annoying. Lee Chi-ting's Desmond is much more idealized - good at everything, friendly, and humble, although he's good at playing that humility as something of an inferiority complex. Simon Yam won his first Best Actor award for the father, and it is a very nice performance from the ubiquitous actor. He's harried and cranky, the kind of father that doesn't say "I love you" easily or directly, but whose emotion is clearly visible in his actions.

There are lots of movies like "Echoes of the Rainbow", trying to balance gauzy nostalgia with more than a bit of tear-jerking melodrama. The viewer can see what it's doing as it's doing it, which will mark it as unsophisticated for some. It falls well short of tacky in that regard, though; a familiar story, but one told well.

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originally posted: 07/01/10 09:24:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/11/10 James Zhang A very very good movie and I like it very much! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Alex Law

Written by
  Alex Law

  Buzz Chung
  Sandra Ng Kwan Yue
  Simon Yam

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