Claustrophobia (Variety, Screen Daily Review)

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Claustrophobia (Variety, Screen Daily Review)

Postby dleedlee » Thu Oct 30, 2008 2:23 pm

("Chan mat")

An Irresistible Films, Film Development Fund of Hong Kong presentation a Runaway Films, Mega Profit Creation production. (International sales: Edko Films, Hong Kong.) Produced by Cary Cheng, Yee Chung Man. Executive producers, Bill Kong, Ryuhei Chiba, Hugh Simon. Directed, written by Ivy Ho.

With: Karena Lam, Ekin Cheng, Felix Lok, Derek Tsang, Chucky Woo, Eric Tsang, Andy Hui
(Cantonese, Mandarin, English dialogue)

Clandestine romance provides sad but pleasurable viewing in the high-quality Hong Kong meller "Claustrophobia." Helming bow of Hong Kong scripting vet Ivy Ho ("Comrades, Almost a Love Story," "Divergence") has a mastery that recalls Eric Rohmer and Woody Allen at their most sublime. Offering fine drama about and for adults, pic will make a prestige inclusion for fests. Commercial possibilities exist for industrious distribs willing to guide sophisticated auds away from the usual arthouse milieus. Hong Kong release has not been confirmed, but will likely be skeeded in early 2009, with other Chinese-language territories to quickly follow.

Narrative covers an illicit, yearlong office romance between marketing secretary Pearl (Karena Lam) and married manager Tom (Ekin Cheng). Unfolding like Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" in reverse, the script is constructed from periodic snippets of the couple's innocent and not-so-innocent conversations. Throughout the film, the lovers are rarely seen alone, and are usually in the company of one or more of their business associates.

Pic begins with Tom driving Pearl home with other colleagues after a late-night drinking session. They're accompanied by a bickering couple: glitzy, spoiled Jewel (Chucky Woo) and slightly effeminate John (Derek Tsang). In retrospect, Jewel and John's fiery spat indicates why no one in the office has suspected Pearl and Tom's affair. But after the others have been dropped off, a tense exchange confirms that the pair have shared more than just car rides.

Yarn's segments leap from one week earlier to one year earlier, with various intervals in between. Ho uses discretion at all times, letting auds decide for themselves the extent of the affair. In every sequence, seemingly innocuous details allow the attentive viewer to gather subtle clues about the characters' backgrounds and activities.

Subtle centerpiece is a long sequence that takes place after an apparently unhappy tryst at a Hong Kong beachside hideaway. Pearl's extended conversation with a cab driver (Andy Hui), like much of pic's dialogue, is trivial on the surface but brims with passionate allusions only a suppressed heartbeat away.

Throughout the running time, the precisely crafted dialogue is matched by a naturalistic, almost improvised air. Perfs are strong across the board, and distaff lead Lam is aces. An extended cameo by Eric Tsang is enjoyable and also acts as gateway to revelations about Pearl's relationship history.

Given that a clever, seasoned scribe like Ho can often guide a helmer's directorial choices, her own direction is understandably smart. Augmented by the smooth camerawork of Taiwanese-born lenser Mark Lee Ping Bing ("The Sun Also Rises," "Spring Snow" and most of Hou Hsiao Hsien's films), pic is a visual delight that.

Injection of coin from Nipponese company Avex Entertainment may explain why tech credits reach a higher standard than the Hong Kong norm.

Camera (color), Mark Lee Ping Bing; editor, Kong Chi Leung; music, Anthony Chue; production designer, Yee Chung Man; sound (Dolby Digital), Chan Man Chiu. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (competing), Oct. 22, 2008. Running time: 100 MIN.
Last edited by dleedlee on Thu Feb 12, 2009 12:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Claustrophobia (Variety Review)

Postby dleedlee » Thu Feb 12, 2009 12:32 am


Lee Marshall in Berlin
10 Feb 2009 20:00
Dir/scr: Ivy Ho. Hong Kong. 2008. 100mins.

In her first film as director, Hong Kong scripter Ivy Ho gives a masterclass in the tricky art of making a love story whose emotional point is always at one poignant remove from its protagonists' words and actions. Unspooling backwards in time over one year from last meeting to first stirrings, this underplayed tale of the yearning of a minor manager in a small trading firm for her married boss treats an unremarkable not-quite-love-affair between two unremarkable people with a lyricism and keenness of observation that lifts it beyond its uneventful storyline.

Commercially, though, Claustrophobia risks falling between two stools. It has some of the auteur appeal of In The Mood For Love, but without that film's lush period atmosphere (and the Wong imprimitur) it may struggle to reach arthouse audiences abroad. In fact its contemporary settings and a couple of minor comedy-oriented characters even hark occasionally towards commercial HK melodramas– but Ho's debut is way too artsy for home fans. In the end, its best prospects probably lie in being marketed internationally as Hong Kong's answer to the bittersweet tragicomedies of Eric Rohmer – a director with whom Ho has a great deal in common.

The claustrophobia of the title is that of high-density Hong Kong, where private lives are often forced to unfold in public. In a cramped out-of-town office, gentle, slightly dreamy marketing assistant Pearl (Lam) works with her colleagues – party-girl Jewel (Woo), who is always on her mobile phone, older senior manager Karl (Lok), immature clerk John (Derek Tsang) and the dashing but reserved Tom (Cheng), the office manager.

The film begins with the five colleagues crammed into Tom's car as he drives them home after a day's work. Gradually we realise that the real drama is the unspoken romantic tension between the two most taciturn characters, Pearl and Tom. But when they are finally alone in the car, it takes an unexpected turn, with Tom telling Pearl that he has a friend who can help her get a much better managerial position – effectively firing her, with kid gloves. After she has vented her anger, they almost kiss – but then a mobile phone rings.

The story tracks backward in eight stages from this achingly believable ending to the quiet start of Pearl's crush a year before. Some scenes – like one in which Pearl visits her family doctor (Eric Tsang) with a sore throat, have nothing to do with the love plot, at least on the surface, but are full of undercurrents. In a key scene, set on a harbour island where Pearl has gone in the pouring rain because she knows Tom plays golf there, it's her distracted, awkward exchange with a kind taxi driver (Hui) that mediates her longing, rather than any direct contact with the object of desire.

Karena Lam's sensitive performance lights up the film, while the moody, sodium-lit night photography of longtime Hou Hsiao-Hsien collaborator Mark Lee Ping-bing highlights the romantic tension.

Production companies
Irresistible Films
Runaway Films
Mega Profit Creation Limited

International sales
Edko Films
(852) 2529 3898

Cary Cheng
Yee Chung Man

Mark Lee Ping-Bing

Production design
Yee Chung Man

Kwong Chi Leung

Anthony Chue

Main cast
Karena Lam
Ekin Cheng
Felix Lok
Derek Tsang
Chucky Woo
Eric Tsang
Andy Hui ... ryID=43028
饮水思源 Better to light a candle than curse the darkness; Measure twice, cut once.
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