Shan shui you xiang feng
Hong Kong, 1995
Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer
This is the real thing: a terrific 1995 Hong Kong film. It's a comedy-romance movie all about the movies. Lau Ching-Wan is a Chun Wai, screenwriter involved with two actresses: he finds himself living with the glamourous Lulu (Ada Choi) but he's in love with her best friend, the far more talented Mei Ball (Anita Yuen). The actions follows this trio from 1965 to 1970, as the young hopefuls become stars, win awards, and try to cope with "true love".
Out of this premise comes a goofy, sweet-silly movie that works on many levels: it's a screwball romance that never quite resolves in the direction you expect; it's a nostalgic celebration of movie magic; a satire of the the Hong Kong movie business, star culture, and celebrity; and it's a dazzling little exercise in post-modern irreverence. Which places it, I think, among movies like Jeff Lau's '92 Legendary la Rose Noire.
Anita Yuen is wonderful: moving, funny, silly, complex: she can show you a whole range of emotions crossing her face, in one simple close-up. And her chemistry with Lau Ching-Wan is perfect (no surprise here). We're treated to a baroque parade of 60's fashions, music, and hair: kudos to the art directors. The only relatively weak link (and this is a small complaint) is in Joe Ma Wai-Ho's direction: sometimes it felt a bit cluncky, unfinished: not quite as accomplished or as original as his brilliant screenplay.
The movie is formally quite intricate: scenes of film-making mix with and blur into scenes from fake old movies, and scenes from the characters' "real lives". Mei Ball learns that she can only be successful by being absolutely false on the screen (she's the best actress around, but only becomes a star when she starts to play male roles). Chun Wai transforms his "actual" romance into a hit screenplay. But the process works even better in reverse when his life takes its critical turn in the middle of a film set, on camera, in someone else's shoot.
The movie world and "real life" get jumbled up. We're inside a screenwriter's imagination: it could be the screenwriter character, (Chun Wai), or the actual screenwriter of Golden Girls (Joe Ma Wai-Ho). But it doesn't really matter: in some sense one stands for the other.
Like the perspective within an interlocking set of mirrors, we sometimes watch the characters watching a movie in which they play actors playing characters inside yet another movie! This all feels crazy, and it's Hong Kong cinematic boundary-blurring at its best: by the end of the movie (which is so entertaining that you don't really have time to think) the distinctions between actual and fictive, representation and reality have ceased to be all that meaningful.
Golden Girls is a little gem: too much fun to be saying as much as it does, but it works, and it's elating to watch.
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all content © 1996-2002 Shelly Kraicer