First Love: the litter on the breeze
Hong Kong, 1997
Eric Kot Man-Fai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Karen Mok Man-Wai, Lee Wai-Wai, Nancy Lan Sai, Vincent Kok Tak-chiu, Calvin Choi, Chung Dick Lung, Maggie Leung
Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer
Definitely not a movie for everyone. Eric Kot's First Love is sometimes awfully irritating (think of him as an actor, all too ready to rely on his hysterically ingratiating buffoon mode); but at the same time occasionally beautiful and funny and episodically brilliant.
The movie, following its producer Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express model, is in two parts. The first is a postmodern fable about eccentric garbageman Takeshi Kaneshiro's pathetically unrequited love for young bakery clerk Lee Wai-wai. She sleepwalks obsessively, and he follows, smitten, dreaming of marriage. The second story is a comic adventure of tangled domestic life, as former fiancee Karen Mok returns to bedevil, and maybe even threaten, convenience store clerk Eric Kot's relationship with current wife Nancy Lan Sai.
Chris Doyle's photography is a wonderful treat, as usual. Rolling, dizzying hand-held camera work, saturated colours, video, and psychedelic lighting effects are everywhere. The first section, with a doleful Kaneshiro and photogenic Lee Wai-wai, is rather self indulgent, and almost as difficult to watch as Kot's experimental, weirdly headache-inducing section of Sandra Ng's Four Faces of Eve. But it's saved by Kot's hilarious (Calvino-inspired?) interpolations as "the director": constantly interrupting the "story", teasing, analysing, mocking, and apologising for what's he's dared to put on the screen. It works much better than it sounds.
The second section settles down into a real story, as Kot lets us follow characters (Karen, Eric, Nancy) with substantial and recognizable feelings, who connect with each other. Karen Mok and Nancy Lan Sai are wonderful, in their comic/dramatic roles: Lan Sai gets an extended run at her hilariously dippy comic style (is there a funnier actor specializing in HK movie cameos today?), and Karen Mok is genuinely moving and beautiful within the little window of screen time that she's allowed. It builds to a surprisingly touching, emotional finale, which, in an inspired twist, is topped by an even more moving epilogue, with Kot as "the director", overwhelmed by the realization that he has finally finished his film.
The score, by Carl Wong, is as brilliant as Doyle's photography, and propels the film through its early tedious patches. I look forward to Kot's next film: if he can tame the experimental excess of part one with the brilliant technique and genuine feeling of part two, he'll be a filmmaker to reckon with.
email the website editor
all content © 1996-2002 Shelly Kraicer