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A Hong Kong 'Brief Encounter'
on 3 July 2003
Here is a film that fills all your senses to saturation point, that takes as it's cue the idea that each minute detail in a moment carries equal weight and hat some people do rise above the mundane in their search for love.
Every frame of this film is lovingly prepared and the screen bursts with the vibrancy of its colours whilst keeping the protagonists in an emotional dead calm, where they cannot quite overcome their own sensibilities. Some may indeed find the film slow, perhaps indulgent. But that is to miss the point - when one falls in love on savours every moment, every feeling. Each resonates in our minds and amplifies in our heart to form a new, more powerful memory. When those feelings cannot be acted upon, then life becomes a secret trade in dreams and whispers.
Chow (Tony Leung, as great a presence as Gregory Peck on the screen) and Su Li-zhen (the effortlessly graceful Maggie Cheung)are neighbours in a Hong Kong tenament block. Both are married to spouses we never fully see, just hear in conversations or phone calls. Both appear slightly isolated from their place in the world. Chow dreams of writing kung-fu series for a living whilst Su waits to become a mother. Through a series of quilted scenes (one of the joys of the movie is how scenes are repeated, refracted, revisited and we are never quite sure of the timeline of the story) we learn, just before the characters themselves do, that their spouses are infact having an affair. They are drawn to each other not so much by this but by the loneliness of their spouses' absences. Converstaions are hesistant, filled with silences. The camera prowls around,viewing them from a slightly greater distance than normal. Often half the frame is obscured in the tenament by a door, a desk or a body. We are like the child in Henry James's 'What Maisie Knew', slowly putting together the motion of their romance in our own mind. It is remarkable cinema; the editing only enhances our slight confusion and requires us always to double check our understanding. Kar-wai Wong, together with his cinemaphotographer, takes us ever closer to these people.
Everything about this film is first class; the script is a marvel of concise storytelling and the acting would surely be lauded if it came from two Hollywood stars. The ending is in someways an enigma - but if you like Kieslowski or just great romantic film making you'll find this a film you can wallow in over and over again.