While Jay Chou no doubt holds court in today's Mando-pop scene, he gets no love from the movie-goers who snigger at his expressionless performance in Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower. It indeed is quite brave of him (though it's arguable to strike while the iron is hot) to diversify and have a hand in directing so early in his cinematic career, and coming up with quite an interesting, engaging story, though like any creative work, his story did make him seem quite intelligent, in spite of his usual laid-back demeanour.
Jay stars as Jay (yeah, bring back those lazy Hong Kong production days where characters share the actor's first names, because they were working on so many movies simultaneously, it's hard to keep track, so why not name the characters after yourself!), a new student in Tamkang Secondary School. He follows a mysterious piano tune and meets with Rain (Kwai Lun-Mei), a fellow student with whom he starts to spend many lovey-dovey moments with. It's essentially a romance story for dating couples to catch, and it will be a definite test of anyone's cloy-tolerance, given that the lovebirds share so much saccharine sweet dialogue and behaviour, those with lesser tolerance will have goosebumps all the way.
And for the romantic movie fans, it's time to revisit some of the cliche plot elements like the bicycle ride - who can resist a bicycle ride! - lovely scene setting landscape shots, idle banter, close contacts, dance, kisses, the "third party" Sky (whom I think is more attractive than Kwai, thus providing that additional tension), the list just goes on. Jay has mentioned parts of the story was really based on his own experiences, it is indeed interesting to try and find out just which are. Being a piano student, the movie too was a showcase piece for his musical talents and prowess on the piano, coupled with computer generated graphics which enhanced certain scenes for dramatic effect with great aplomb.
Those who think that Jay Chou can't act will want to rethink that again. Given Initial D was pop, and that Curse was action, Secret was a perfect dramatic platform for him to do a little more emoting, even though he can't seem to shake off his signature drawl. And of course some help to make him look good came from thespian Anthony Wong, who had also played his cinematic dad (of similar interest / capability) in Initial D, as he again does in Secret. Here, their father and son characters play off each other a little more in some endearing, comical moments, and naturally, Wong seemed a more believable father figure than Chow Yun-Fat for Jay Chou.
The strength of the movie however laid in its story. I shall keep it a secret just exactly what it was, and all I can say is it is similar in nature to some of my favourite movies in the past, thus I had taken a natural liking for Secret as well. However, while you think you might have it all planned out how the story will unfold, Jay Chou actually had an added punch to keep it a little bit fresh, and in doing so, raises it to a slightly different level as well, with a fairly intense climax that will have you rooting for a desirable outcome, no less. What worked against it though, would be the verbatim nature in which the story was explained, making it a little draggy and at times, repetitive, instead of allowing the audience to put the pieces together.
Jay Chou as story writer (he had someone to script it for him), actor, director and composer, Secret turned out to be a surprisingly commendable, commendable effort. If this is any indication of what's to come from this talented dude, then I'll be more than happy to be a fan convert, for his cinematic efforts at least. Recommended date movie of the week, remember to bring out those tissues as well! I won't be surprised if this movie will work its magic into my top ten list for the year.
Oh, and the end credits have to be one of the shortest I've experienced, with some horribly misspelt words in English that will make you chuckle. Jay, if you're reading this, next time let me do the end credits for you in English, properly :-)
Jay Chou and co-star Kwai Lun-Mei were in Singapore a few days back. You can click here to read more!