It's been some time since I was last moved by an omnibus of short, intertwining romantic stories, given the slew of works that had gone before which opted for quite the happily ever after ending. Written and directed by Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan, Lover's Discourse didn't pull its punches, and delivered layered tales within the standalone segments covering almost all aspects of modern love in a non-linear timeline, but never flinching from what makes love hurt, with beautifully depressing (yes) outcomes in most ways. It's strongly scripted to craft the joints between stories and time, developing characters who didn't get what they want, or choose to repress their true feelings.
At the center of the whirlwind come the first story, serving as a hook to keep you engaged, and everything else drawn to and referencing it like an invisible hand. Starring Eason Chan and Karena Lam opposite each other for the first time, this is indeed a treat for the fans as we start off in quite platonic terms, with reminiscence of Richard Linklater's style adopted for Before Sunrise, where we follow the couple through a late night out in Hong Kong, with conversations that flow naturally and captured significant portions on the streets in a single, moving take. But as it develops we realize the massive undertones of attraction brewing underneath, and sets you thinking whether both are brave enough to break that platonic barrier to risk it for a What If situation, yet constantly fearing the lapsing into mundaneness and hence the preference for the status quo.
I suppose it raises some questions here each time anyone decides to want to take something a step further, that there's a certain amount of risk and gamble involved, whether vested emotional interest will ultimately outweigh the benefits for staying within comfort zones. Eason and Karena also bring about some incredible chemistry in their roles, and allows us to feel exactly the kind of dilemma their characters feel, especially in their resignation to their fates and reluctance to take that leap of faith, of course without guarantees that it's better. Their scenes in the restaurant and the walk home are simply just gorgeous to sit through.
And speaking of beautiful things, Kay Tse takes over with the next segment as a staff in a laundromat who is nursing a huge infatuation for a frequent customer played by Taiwanese Eddie Pang, who's in a role that's quite minor and throwaway other than to show a pretty boy face for a teenage girl to fall head over heels for. With big glasses and a very shy demeanour, Kay Tse's character epitomizes those who are obsessed over someone with whom we have no courage to speak to, possessing large energy doses to daydream, which forms the bulk of this segment with her imagination running wild. Similar to Michel Gondry's Science of Sleep, we bear witness to her kitsch imaginary sequences with mannequins to assist in acting out her fantasies, which range in scenarios based in martial arts or weepy romantic dramas. Being essentially a one woman show, Kay Tse carries this segment well on her lithe shoulders, but otherwise this happens to be my least favourite due to the uncharacteristic drag in pace in dreamy scenes that were a tad overindulgent.
The following two segments turn out to be the most layered, and the most intertwined of the lot as well, bringing everything back full circle and with an outburst that shows how a disturbing judgement call can be made when under pressure for some form of tit for tat revenge. We jump 12 years back into the past with William Chan starring as a boy who is secretly in love with his friend's mom, played by Singaporean Kit Chan. Frequently invited to partake in home cooked meals in his friend's home which become take outs by the time it ended, he sets out to achieve a plan to grow close to the Mrs, by exposing the infidelities of her husband, played by Eric Tsang. That forms the basis of this segment, but the emotional core was brought out by Kit Chan most excellently in a brilliant scene where she was confronted with proof in reality, that leaves her no more room for denial and hiding behind feigned ignorance.
That single scene joined many memorable others, and if anyone has doubts of Kit's ability to act, this one will prove the naysayers wrong. There's also a hint of a forbidden sexual tension in the air, but this thought got carried over to the final segment that wrapped everything together when the end credits rolled. Continuing the same character that William Chan played, now tackled by Jacky Heung as the adult he grew into, Mavis Fan enters the scene as a girl who suspects her boyfriend is cheating behind her back, and together both started off in testy fashion no thanks to internet messaging, and soon progress into partners in crime in tailing their other half in a seeking of the truth, culminating in the revenge, sexual tale that the former had brought over.
From dealing with infidelity amongst spouses to dealing with cheating when in exclusive relationships, a reminder got brought out just how easy technology is that double edged sword in allowing for hookups, and leaving a trail for others to pick up on if one is not careful. Pictures, locations, tags and chat messages all become bits and pieces of information gathered for intelligence, with a certain social network tool being mimicked here that contains wall posts, pictures and such that are open to all and sundry without proper privacy protection (so a little prevention and protection go a long way). My last memory of Mavis Fan is a teenybopper singer, so who would have thought she had what it takes to play someone who cyber-stalks and possessing such a suspicious mind that it fuels the last segment. Some may suggest she did what she did because her feelings were in the doldrums and is emotionally vulnerable, but I would like to read it more as a perverse revenge since it hints of going one up against their common adversaries.
Lover's Discourse is strangely depressing in mood, but lives up to its namesake in being a solid intellectual stimulant for any post-screening discussions into that feeling called love, that inevitably comes with barbed wires that one has to navigate through that comes part and parcel. If you're of the opinion that omnibus movies are fluff with eye candy and lightweight stories, then you're in for a big surprise with this effort that is highly recommended with that keen eye to deliver an emotional punch backed by strong casting and stories! I should be checking this out again in Cantonese when the DVD is out!