27 June 2004 | johnlewis
A traditional, believable, compelling romantic drama.
One thing that makes this film stand out and be so enjoyable to watch is that Hollywood stopped making traditional romantic dramas without sex decades ago. Something else that stands out is Gong Li's classic beauty and acting skills, both of which elevate this story to a much higher level than any skinnier, less graceful Chinese actress could have done. Her facial twitches are sometimes rather clichéd, but only because we see them in every film she plays in. It is certainly no worse than Humphry Bogart's ear fidgeting (and much more pleasing to watch). Sylvia Chang has done a wonderful job with this screenplay and her directing. The story just grabs the viewer. I only intended to watch the laser disc for a few minutes to see what the movie was like, and I could not stop watching until the end credits. The camera work by Christopher Doyle brings us much closer to the main characters than a more textbook approach would have. Even the use of extras was amazingly real (not the usual street ad-libbed Hong Kong crowd shuffling junk with people looking at the camera).
This film is an excellent romantic drama about a beautiful "kept woman" who wants to make a real life in Hong Kong, but her boyfriend refuses to introduce her to his father or admit her existence to his family. Also he doesn't want her to work, but she is really bored with her life and the seemingly endless status quo. He also doesn't contact her for days at a time nearly every week. The Hong Kong government won't give her a work ID card without hard proof that she really was born in Hong Kong. Her parents had lived there, but moved to the mainland right after she was born (she grew up in Beijing).
After a while, she meets a handsome next door neighbor who befriends her, and they gradually grow into a close friendship, then more. He shows her more concern and sensitivity at first when his motives are just to be a good neighbor, than her boyfriend does as a fiancé and lover (who won't commit).
Sylvia Chang is one of the most skilled directors and screenwriters in Hong Kong or Taiwan, not to a mention prolific Hong Kong actress. She deserves much more recognition and credit than she seems to get. To me, her films seem to be on a similar level of the greatest Taiwan contemporary directors like Edward Yang and HHH. Because her stories are more traditional, and the fact she is a woman in a man's job (according to the male-dominated Hong Kong and world film cultures)- she seems not to be often viewed that way by the film industry or reviewers. She doesn't use gimmicks, slick effects, or trendy camera work. She just knows how to make people in ordinary situations seem extraordinary.