Reviewed by: Brian Thibodeau
Summary: Fascinating contribution to the overrated Dogme 95 movement
Engrossing socio-realist triptych of stories exploring the anxieties and intransigence of Hong Kong society through the eyes of a handful of everyday citizens, including one who returns from the diaspora, during both the buildup to the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China and the Asian financial crisis that followed soon after, in part the result of unbridled stock market and real estate speculation. Lensed on digital video in the naturalistic Dogme 95 style championed by Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg (among others who followed) in films like THE CELEBRATION and THE IDIOTS (both 1998). The movement's "rules" forbid the overlaying of music to artificially shape emotion, so the ambient noise here includes vintage television news broadcasts providing political context.
Reviewer Score: 9
Upstanding pastor Tony Ho frets the loss of his small church, and the sense of community and belonging it represents, to bald-faced property speculators, while his wife (Ivy Ho), a pragmatic realtor, surreptitiously arranges to sell their apartment before emigrating to the U.S. Meanwhile, tabloid reporter Shawn Yu takes a shine to editor Crystal Lui, whose aloofness masks painful, unresolved memories of her time as a student during the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing. Finally, superficial, westernized playboy Duncan Lai (easily the film's most weakly-drawn character) returns to Hong Kong from San Francisco to be nearer to his bus driver father, the pair learning a great deal about their roots during a visit to a rustic quarter of the city of Chung Shan in Guangdong Province to arrange the affairs of a deceased great aunt.
In keeping with the Dogme manifesto, independent producer-director Vincent Chui, in an extremely promising feature-length debut after dabbling in short subjects, employs restless handheld photography and fractious editing to accentuate themes of dislocation and unease in writer Patrick Kong's uniquely local stories: these are people facing uncertain futures and disappearing pasts, and the artless telling of their tales becomes a visual metaphor for the unsettling cosmopolitan zeitgeist of the period. Though a key event in the minds of all concerned, the moment of the handover itself is skillfully omitted for audiences who presumably know everything they need to know either from having lived through it or from having seen it openly referenced in the city's mainstream cinema for well over a decade, prior to and beyond 1997.
Other strategies from the Dogme playbookavailable light, existing locations, raw sound, unmannered performancescontribute to an at-once refreshing lack of artifice and melodrama rare even to independent Hong Kong cinema. Tony Ho, Crystal Lui and newcomer Ivy Ho are in top form here, backed by an able ensemble. Only Duncan Lai's character remains frustratingly enigmatic, probably not by design. Title comes from the bible, Matthew 19:22, for those so inclined.