Sunday, March 06, 2011

All About Love (得閒炒飯 / Duk Haan Chau Faan)

Sealed With a Kiss

Fans of Vivian Chow unite! It's been ages since her last feature film appearance, and it's no secret that she's making a comeback of sorts to the entertainment arena. While her fans are probably around my age now, I think there will be many who will throng to the cinemas to watch her take on what's probably her most interesting one to date apart from being the usual flower vase because of her good looks, made fun of when she first appears in All About Love where a photographer took a random shot of her sitting in a bench, and the no lacking of lighters offered by anonymous hands when she pops a cigarette in her mouth. Yes the demure looking girl of everyone's dreams is back.

Produced and directed by Ann Hui, All About Love tackles the fairly recent coming out of the closet discriminatory issues faced by non-heterosexuals in Hong Kong, although these issues are probably applicable outside of the island as well. The narrative is ambitiously double pronged, in addressing concerns experienced by single unwed mothers, and that of same sex marriages and family, and blurred the line of distinction between the two separate issues by having them linked together. Playing ex-lovers, Vivian Chow's Anita and Sandra Ng's Macy meet through attending a course on pregnancy, and while discovering that they each are expecting a child - with independent flashbacks going back 10 weeks to how they got impregnated - their moment together through repeated long walks to and from their respective apartments reignites their passion for each other, as well as bringing back the complicated issue that they have to deal with in every relationship - the big C word Commitment.

The story by Yee Shan Yeung is filled with plenty of comedy to make light the very serious issues that get put forth, which Ann Hui junks showy techniques for having discussions very in your face, and done almost talking heads documentary style with key characters standing on soapboxes making their case. There are at least two moments in the film, one quite early on, where Macy's bisexual nature enters the discussion, and provides for her character to berate others in their hypocrisy since they apply the same discriminatory eye to those belonging to an even smaller niche behaviour. And it's not all about sex, as domestic violence gets thrown into the picture as well, though I suspect treated with a very slight hand since issues get settled through the provision of orgasms. Yes you read that right, and having the abuser (Eddie Cheung) let off the hook as well in some ways.

But nonetheless it provides for some thought provoking moments, which will catalyze and fuel post viewing discussions, especially with very subversive characters like Eddie Cheung's Robert as mentioned above, including that of a potent one night stand, as well as William Chan's Mike, a guy who's way younger than Anita, but still having the hots for her much to her irritation, since she's perceived by friends and colleagues as a cougar on the prowl for fresh meat. The film takes on such issues squarely on the head, and you'd wonder how everyone can finally get along with each other without getting in one another's way since everyone's pretty much a headstrong character.

At times this looked like the perfect activist film, with scenes dedicated to raising of protests and awareness of difficult issues that we are guilty of sweeping under the carpet, until a passionate group brings everything out for airing. The films direction seemed to move from character issues and their emotional core, to that of being rather preachy, coupled with a clueless finale in not knowing how best to call it quits, deciding on a discotheque scene (which I suspect could have belonged somewhere earlier but spliced here) with a cameo by veteran actress Fung Bo Bo. For all its passionate awareness raising issues, it somehow fizzled out toward the end, which is quite a pity.

I'm still interested in tracking how our powers that be will treat films like these, where the topics at hand aren't quite acceptable by them and get put under the microscopic lens of censorship. An exclusive showcase which is rated R21 (no explicit sex scenes here, nor gratuitous nudity or violence), curiously there could be some double standards here with that of the treatment of The Kids Are All Right, which got the same rating but restricted further to one single print. While the excuse given for that decision was based on that film normalizing same sex relationships, this one too had elements of that, except that it happens as a postscript, and worse, showcases how loopholes are exploited through sham marriages. Food for thought actually.

There are two beautiful elements in this film that provided that visual eye candy. First of course is the Central-Mid-levels Escalators in Hong Kong Island. All of Hong Kong is probably a large film set, but nothing beats the iconic escalators where many scenes were played out against, given the very interesting locale of slopes, shops and stairs to pepper the background. Then I will undeniably state that Vivian Chow still looks gorgeous for her age, and in some ways seem to defy aging with her very own fountain of youth, making it seem like almost yesterday when she bowed out from the limelight. Her role while very different from ones tackled before, didn't make it too much of a challenge since she's still that whimsical lady, as Sandra Ng once again proved her acting prowess as the very confused bisexual who's afraid to be tied down.

Personally I thought there were moments where this film had characters that did no favours to the group it wanted to portray, since it treated orientation issues as quite trivial, especially flip-flopping in decisions to want to remain straight, or not. Still it comes with a number of compelling arguments that makes it worthwhile to sit through to formulate your own opinions, and why not do so with the number of eye candy around too? Not one of Ann Hui's strongest works, but recommended nonetheless!

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