Thursday, January 07, 2010

Hear Me (聽說 / Ting Shuo)

Language of Love

The gimmick in the film that allows it to transcend the usual teenybopper puppy love stories filled with an eye-candy cast, is undoubtedly the use of the non-verbal medium of sign language in a film. I don't recall watching any recent contemporary film where the lead characters engage in sign for the most parts of the story, leaving us the audience relying very much on the subtitles (both English and Mandarin with subtle differences) to tide us through. It's a novelty factor, though one that works, and hopefully can help to garner interest such that it shouldn't been seen as a “language” of exclusivity because of impairment, but one which is actually very beautiful with its fluid motion, and as the film suggests, with a certain degree of creative improvisation (hey, so long as you're understood, right?)

For Eddie Pang's Tian Kuo the delivery boy for his parent's restaurant, going from place to place to bring their delicious rice sets to hungry masses is part of his daily routine, until a destination at a swimming pool would begin to set his heart fluttering when he falls for Yang Yang (Ivy Chen), the sister of his customer Xiao Peng (Michelle Chen) the Paralympic Deaflympics swimmer. So begins the usual scenarios he puts himself into just to be able to reach out and befriend Yang Yang, with the usual dating pursuit complexities that plague any (if I may use the word) normal, budding relationships in the modern world, where telecommunication devices such as Messaging, Email and SMS prove to be essential when communicating non-verbally.

The rest of the story is pretty straight-forward with toeing along a formula, though it's kept extremely engaging by the light hearted story and its extremely good looking casts who obviously had put in a lot of work to be natural, believable sign-linguists. Though some may cringe at the more melodramatic moments, the sentimental old me somehow saw it as being able to bring something extra to the table, with the relationship between two sisters so reliant on each other, that it makes you appreciate the nature of that innate love between siblings, and that between family with Tian-Kuo's parents playing key roles here that accentuates the sensitivity (and at times irritability) of how parents can sometimes fuss over their only child. Not to mention too that they almost always steal the show because of their quirkiness and comic timing each time they come on screen, in addition to some slapstick humour that director Cheng Fen-fen slips in from time to time.

Running almost two hours long, the story may be a little bit stretched or at times required the suspension of disbelief, for instance that a missionary father could just bear to up and go preach in Africa leaving two lovely children to fend for themselves. The finale too seemed a little too long and suffered from the usual syndrome that it didn't know exactly when to end and stop at a nice crescendo, but chose to finish things off in predictable, expected fashion. For sharp eyed viewers you'll probably would have prepped yourself for that big surprise reveal even right from the start, but that will not alter the enjoyment of witnessing how things will develop, especially when their first real date really tanked with that unavoidable adversary, and with themes like how one should live our own lives instead of living out someone else's.

I can't help but to raise another plus point in the film. There's a bit of the use of Hokkien and Cantonese in the film, and lo and behold they were left intact, though one can argue that the duration of use wasn't significant. To me it was, because it's that continued one small step forward before eventually making that giant leap. It's easy to have dubbed the languages over using Mandarin, but it wasn't, so I'll interpret this positively. And since we're on the topic of languages, I've already mentioned that sign language is beautiful, and after watching this film you're likely more inclined to be a bit more aware of how emotions can be expressed exactly through delicate or more hard-pounding motions.

Hear Me reminds us no matter what medium is used to express love, so long as it comes straight from the heart honestly and sincerely, that emotion will be heard loud and clear. Highly recommended, and works perfectly as a date movie.

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