Hong Kong, 2000
director & writer: Fruit Chan
cinematography: Lam Wah-chuen
editor: Tin Sam-fat
design: Ma Ka-kwan
music: Lam Wah-chuen
producers: Doris Yang ; Vincent Maraval (exec.)
production co.: Nicetop Independent ; Des Films ; Wild Bunch ; Studio Canal France
Official website (English & Chinese)
Qin Hailu ... Qin Yan
Mak Wai-fan ... Fan
Mak Suet-man ... Man (Fan's sister)
Biao Xiao Ming ... Xiao Ming
Yung Wai-yiu ... ruffian
Li Shuang ... Li Shuang
Yeung Mei-kam ... Fans mother
Wong Ming ... Fans father
Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer, May 5, 2001.
Durian Durian is a two-part film split between Mongkok's Portland Street in Hong Kong and the north-eastern border region of mainland China. Ah Fan [Mak Wai-fan], the young girl from Little Cheung, lives in the former with her poor family, originally from Shenzhen, who illegally overstayed their three month visas to scrape together an income washing dishes and selling cigarettes. Fan meets Yan (Qin Hailu), a prostitute from the mainland, in a laneway behind Portland Street. They become friends after Yan's pimp is assaulted in front of Fan by an assailant wielding that most dangerous of weapons, a heavy, sharply spiney-skinned durian fruit. Yan returns to the north-east to invest what she has earned after her three month Hong Kong visa expires.
The film has the most well-defined formal structure of all of Fruit Chan's works, and seems to be about contrasts -- between Hong Kong and the mainland, hot, crowded Tsimshatsui and cold, barren, white north-eastern Heilongjiang. Film techniques seem to reinforce these oppositions; the former is filmed in bright, vivid colours, with an almost constantly moving, close-up, hand held camera, scenes are spliced together with quick cuts; the latter is filmed with a still, placid camera that stands off and films longer shots, and its palette seems desaturated, muted, much more controlled. But Durian Durian really asks you to look closer, and find similarities within differences: Yan's bathing in both places, Hong Kongers' and mainlanders' parallel obsessions with the anxiety of earning money, and most notably, the iconic presence of the durian fruit itself, offered first as a gift to Fan by her family, then as a gift to Yan by Fan. Both protagonists, too, trace parallel odysseys: first towards limited but enticing opportunity in Hong Kong dictated by a capitalism at its most brutal, an experience which wounds but doesn't seem to scar either of them. Then back to a mainland that, slipping away from a past marked by nostalgia towards a future that remains resolutely undefinable, seems charged with possibility.
Hong Kong and China: defined and constructed by history, politics, and sentiment as seperate places, yet inextricably bound together. "One country two systems", or two places sharing the same system? These are some of the themes that Fruit Chan explored throughout his '1997 trilogy' (Made in Hong Kong, The Longest Summer,and Little Cheung). Though never as richly or as subtly as here. Durian represents a stunning advance in technique and in conception for Chan. He manages to infiltrate his themes into the film's fabric, rather than stringing them up across the screen. DURIAN has a beauty, a tempo, and an integrity all its own, thanks to Lam Wah-chuen's richly varied, controlled cinematography, Tim Sam-fat's lively and expressive editing, and Lam Wah-chuen's (again) brilliant score (listen to the song and watch the trailer).
It would be difficult to exaggerate, though, the debt Durian owes to Chan's two gifted young actresses, Mak Wai-fan and Qin Hailu. Mak reprises, in greater depth and detail, the touching, naturalistic performance she gave in Little Cheung. And Qin, in her first film, is simply astonishing, negotiating the gap between a surprisingly dignified, unshakably confident Mongkok prostitute on the one hand, and a re-constructed, newly independent woman determined to slip out from the constricting social structures of her hometown on the other, with a dizzying aplomb that would be surprising even in an actress with years of experience behind her. Durian Durian comfortably belongs in the company of Yi Yi, In the Mood For Love, and Platform, the three masterpieces that marked 2000 as one of the strongest years for Chinese language cinema we've seen in recent times.
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