24 July 2004 | wonderfulfable
A touching drama
I've known Ann Hui to be a excellent director for drama films. Most of her film subjects have touch matters such as family dysfunction, ethical and moral dilemmas that afflicts individuals. One of her films Song of Exile (Maggie Cheung) deals with the relationship of a Chinese-Japanese daughter and her Japanese mother. The characters in Ann Hui's films are fleshed out in depth making them 3 dimensional to the audiences.
Lam Yiu Kwok (Jacky Cheung) is a Chinese Literature school teacher who is in his mid-40's (hence the Chinese title 'Lam Yan Sei Saap' literally meaning 'Man At 40'). Despite being educated and graduating successfully, he opted to teach literature thinking that he could inspire his students to appreciate the art. His friends from high school have gone on to own successful businesses, rich corporate executives, and even stockbrokers. Somehow Yiu Kwok feels inadequate when he meets them at a reunion dinner.
His wife Lam Man Ching (the late Anita Mui) is a homemaker blessed with two teenage sons; one in university and another a high schooler. She is caring and loving towards her family. She even shares her husband's passion for literature; they sometimes recite verses of poetry. However she hides a buried secret. It became apparent when her old lover returns into her life; the reason for that secret. He on the other hand is suffering from a terminal disease and she wants to help him out by caring for him till he passes on. Man Ching feels that helping him can resolve old wounds or perhaps she felt vindictive and wanted to laugh at his dying body?
Yiu Kwok is furious that the past wounds has come back to haunt him and Man Ching. This is made even worse when she agreed to care for her dying old flame. He lets her to devices and delves deeper into his teaching. This leads to him forming a relationship to a student (devilishly played by Lam Kar Yan). She is a nubile girl who has the hots for her teacher. Yiu Kwok feels objected to the Lolita-esque affair he is having but can temptation overcome his senses? This leads to Yiu Kwok reevaluating his life and noticing how inadequate it is. The final moments of the film seems to have the characters resolving loose threads but it has also created new life paths that may require a painful sacrifice. I can't help but feel for Yiu Kwok, shedding a tear for Man Ching when both husband and wife came to an inevitable conclusion.
The characters in July Rhapsody has such deep depth, that they could just jump out of the screen; the audience can identify with the issues that are afflicting those individuals. All the actors gave a wonderful performance especially the central characters whose stories are tightly interwoven.
I've never seen Jacky Cheung do a better dramatic performance and did well here. Anita Mui has never failed to light up my eyes whenever she comes on screen. Her poetry recital reminds me of one of her film scenes in Rouge where her character Fleur recites love poems. That film itself was one of Anita's best. For her performance in July Rhapsody, the feeling is bitter sweet as not only did she give a memorable performance, it was also the last film that she ever made.Anita passed on in following late 2003 as a result of cervical cancer. Ironically, the film's conclusion although not that tragically sad had me bawling for Anita as the Chinese community and the rest of the world can never see such an actress like her again.