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Gungun hongchen, 1990
[Red Dust]

LinIn 1938, a beautiful and imaginative aspiring writer, Shen Shao-Hua (Brigitte Lin) leaves home following the death of her father to start a new life, as Japanese soldiers march into town to reinforce the occupation of China. Having spent her early years of adulthood imprisoned by her embittered father in the attic, Shao-Hua created a fictional young peasant heroine named Jade Orchid, an orphaned, adolescent bond servant girl whose difficult passage to maturity and chronicled personal travails of everyday existence is an autobiographical projection of the author's emotional struggle towards her own ambivalence and uncertain future. Striving to establish a career as a freelance writer for a modest periodical, her thoughtful and evocative articles capture the attention of Chang Neng-Tsai (Han Chin), a pensive and genial cultural attaché for the occupying provisional government who obtained his prominent job by currying favor through a Japanese relative. Through mutual acquaintances, Neng-Tsai contacts Shao-Hua's editor and friend (Josephine Koo) in order to arrange a meeting with the promising writer. However, despite facilitating their introduction, the editor cautions Shao-Hua against becoming romantically involved with Neng-Tsai, reasoning that his privileged post is inevitably looked upon with resentment and disdain by the native Chinese who regard him as a traitor, a strongly harbored contempt that is manifested when Shao-Hua's neighbor brazenly assaults Neng-Tsai in broad daylight within the gated courtyard of her apartment building as he stops by for a visit. Nevertheless, the relationship between Shao-Hua and Neng-Tsai perseveres until one day, in the days preceding the commencement of World War II, when Shao-Hua's best friend, a idealistic resistance activist named Yueh-Feng (Maggie Cheung) pays an extended visit and learns of Neng-Tsai's reprehensible and opportunistic employment.

Yim Ho creates an atmospherically exquisite and densely allusive, yet simple and elegant chronicle of love, sacrifice, and survival amidst national turmoil in
Red Dust. Yim's repeated imagery of the color red (and in particular, red dots) throughout the film creates a provocative correlation between the era of Japanese occupation and the establishment of communism in postwar mainland China: the blood on Shao-Hua's cherished childhood toy after an attempted suicide during her parental captivity; the saturating, warm, red hued lighting associated with Shao-Hua's apartment; the red shawl that Neng-Tsai presents to Shao-Hua as a radio broadcast comments on the escalating conflict between the Chinese and Japanese for the control of Manchkuo; the inferred massacre of students during the civil war between the nationalists and the communists. Note the transitional shot of Jade Orchid in an open area adorned with long and winding red dotted banners that is visually continued in the sight of occupation forces marching into town and waving Japanese flags, and is subsequently repeated in her brief moment of innocent, playful joy that precedes a chaotic bombing episode as she and Spring Hope momentarily take refuge in a tunnel. It is a distilled and symbolic juxtaposition that interweaves a fleeting sentiment of uninhibited freedom and rapture against a pervasive, enveloping environment of looming (and metaphoric) uncertainty - an indelible, transitory snapshot of the gradual erosion and insignificance of humanity and personal desire against the crushing weight of a formidable and inescapable national tide.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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Tianguo niezi, 1994
[Traitorous Prince/The Day The Sun Turned Cold]

TuoA somber and methodical young man named Guan Jian (Tuo Zhong Hua) enters a bustling metropolitan police station and, without a scheduled appointment, asks for a personal meeting with the chief inspector (Hu Li) in order to file a formal complaint against a "village housewife" named Pu Fengying (Siqin Gowa) who, he unsentimentally admits, is his mother. As a clerk systematically collects the required procedural information to determine if the pursuit of a formal investigation is warranted, Jian produces his handwritten personal account of her suspicious behavior around the time of the incident and also a set of books that describes a case involving a Frenchwoman who had poisoned her husband by lacing the milk with arsenic and concealing her actions by claiming to be adding sugar: a modus operandi that triggers a memory surrounding the circumstances behind his father, Guan Shichang's (Ma Jing Wu) unexpected death from cerebritis ten years earlier. Nevertheless, without incontrovertible proof or an eyewitness to the alleged crime, the official re-examination of a rural village school teacher's death after a long, debilitating illness was unlikely and, when a police emergency arises, the chief inspector uses the convenient opportunity to summarily dismiss the inscrutable and dispassionate young man from the precinct. However, after conducting an inconclusive, cursory background investigation on the persistent, but diligent and socially upstanding Jian's possible ulterior motives for his decision to inform on his mother, the chief inspector agrees to meet with him and listen to his childhood recollections of the events preceding his father's death. The film then proceeds in flashback as Jian recounts a sad but familiar tale of a humble and austere existence in the small provincial town, reflecting on his parents' passionless marriage, his uneducated mother's modest vocation as a tofu peddler, his rescue (along with Fengying) after falling through the ice by an affable, well-intentioned woodsman named Liu Da-gui (Wai Zhi), and his father's sudden, violent illness after rumors of an immodest, overly familiar relationship between Fengying and Da-gui begin to surface in the bucolic town.

Based on a real-life murder investigation in the Heilongjiang province in northern China,
The Day the Sun Turn Cold is an exquisite, deeply affecting, and provocative examination of filial duty, estrangement, guilt, and longing. Incorporating the natural imagery of the forbidding winter landscape in the northern frontier, Yim Ho creates a haunting metaphor for the interminably oppressive environment of Fengying's socially inescapable and moribund existence within the community's traditionally patriarchal laws which, in turn, provides an astute, broader commentary on the marginalized role of all "village housewives". Using sublime and indelible episodes that juxtapose images of light and warmth against the pervasive bleakness of their lives in the insular rural province, Yim further illustrates the underlying compassion and affection beneath the unsentimental and often irascible severity of Jian's parents' actions: the recurring imagery of Fengying's perennially steam-filled kitchen as she prepares her daily batches of tofu for sale; her simple indulgence of occasional pipe smoking; Shichang's playful outdoor arrangement of glowing candles inside hollow blocks of ice; Da-gui's heated outpost where Fengying and Jian stop to seek refuge from the cold weather. By illustrating the seemingly insurmountable cultural, environmental, and economic disparity inherent between rural and urban communities, The Day the Sun Turned Cold evocatively captures the intangible toll of a brutal and emotionally erosive existence, and the innate inhumanity of an emotionally callous, alienated, and exacting soul.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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Wo ai chu fang, 1997
[Kitchen]

Chan/TomitaKitchen opens to the wistful narration of an eccentric and irresponsible, but affable young Hong Kong hairdresser named Louie (Jordan Chan) who, as the film begins, has traveled to a quaint Chinese province in the rain to attend the funeral of a friend and former client. Concerned over the plight and well-being of the elderly woman's beautiful and reticent granddaughter Aggie (Yasuko Tomita) whose dilapidated apartment building is in the process of being evacuated for demolition, Louie begins to make periodic visits to her empty apartment. Finding the emotionally fragile and enigmatic young woman invariably asleep on the bare floor of the kitchen adjacent to a partially opened refrigerator door (and on one occasion, oddly cocooned inside the hull of the appliance), Louie attempts to help her overcome her crippling depression by inviting her to the home of his sole remaining family - his 'mother' Wah (Law Kar-Ying) - a gregarious, kind, and nurturing bar owner who, he later reveals, was once his father. Years earlier, devastated by the unexpected loss of his soulmate, Wah underwent a sexual reassignment operation, perhaps in a desperate attempt to sublimate his late wife's spirit within his own body and in a way, give his life to her. Similarly, Aggie's attachment to the aromas and textures of the kitchen seems rooted in her profound sense of grief, attempting to recapture memories of home and her beloved grandmother through the familiar and comforting fragrance of her cooking. However, as Aggie returns to the routines, goals, and everyday distractions of a normal life, Louie becomes increasingly restless and withdrawn, and soon, their seemingly fated connection becomes a transient realization of lost opportunity.

Adapted from Banana Yoshimoto's contemporary novel,
Kitchen is a languid, sublimely textural, and evocative film on grief, guilt of survival, healing, and connection. Stylistically recalling a sparer Wong Kar-Wai film infused with a more sedated whimsy of Pedro Almodovar's outré cinema, Yim Ho creates a suffusive sensuality, voluptuousness, and melancholia that reflect the characters' innate sentiment of loss and longing: the lugubrious image of translucent curtains caressing the wind in Aggie's empty apartment (that is later paralleled in the entrancing sight of morphing lava lamps in Wah's kitchen); the pervasiveness of blue lighting against the darkness as she mourns in silence (slightly reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue, a film that similarly explores themes of fate, chance, and grief); the saturation of metaphoric red decoration in Wah's bar where she entertains the inscrutably resigned middle-aged businessman, Mr. Chiu (Lau Siu-Ming). Yim further incorporates parallel imagery to expound on the theme of interconnected destiny through repeated episodes of torrential rain that bookend the film, mirrored relationships through the adoptive lovers Wah and his late wife and between Louie and Aggie (whom Wah describes as her goddaughter), and even as a comic device involving shears as Louie's neglected girlfriend Jenny (Karen Mok) strikes Aggie and subsequently Louie in a jealous rage after finding the young woman in Wah's apartment. By tracing the romantic evolution of two adrift souls through the human cycle of love and loss, renewal and death, Kitchen indelibly and exquisitely articulates the ephemeral essence of fate, connection, and synchronicity.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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