Written By is a kaufman-esque contemplation of the healing effect of writing. Melody's family was broken up by a car accident when she was 12 years old, blinding her and killing her father. A decade has passed and her mother is still drowning in grief so Melody in order to cheer her mom, decides to write a novel to reverse the fortunes of her family. She does that by making her father blind and leaving her mother, brother and herself dead in the fictional world.
The process works but only to an extent. As tragedy strikes again, Melody and her fictionalised father each seek to cheat death "or more precisely, Meng Por, the mythical God of Death in Chinese folklore" and bring the family together in various dimensions. Ultimately, Written By plays like a grief management workshop that doubles back as a supernatural and very melodramatic fantasy.
Wai Ka Fai has co-written and co-directed some of the most mind blending films from Milkyway Image. From the philosophical deliberation in Running on Karma to the dissection of the mentally disturbed’s psyche in Mad Detective, Wai Ka Fai and his collaborators had not shy away in challenging the intellect musing abilities of the audience. With Written By, Wai Ka Fai had taken a notch further in pushing the boundaries of movie comprehension with more psychological musing and it was a ride to hold on to the unfolding events.
Written By is basically about the story of a girl (Melody) writing a story about her dead father and in that story, her dead father was writing a story about ghostly visitation by his 'dead' family members (and that’s inclusive of Melody). Sound overly convoluted? It becomes even more complex as the three stories start to intertwine with each other, blurring the line of each individual story arc.
If it’s done by other inept film maker or writer, such complicated tale might become a muddled mess. However in Wai Ka Fai’s hands, each story is both clearly defined and yet expertly weaved together that the symbolic meanings are apparent in the jumbled rumble.
Within those stories, it touches on the role of a writer and how much of himself / herself does one instills on the characters that they write about. It also meditates upon the godlike power that author has over the subjects of a story he or she is writing and the underlying rules that even the writer with his or her 'divinity' power, must follow or be constraining with.
Underneath all the complexity generated by this multifaceted story, Written By also advocate the therapeutic effect of pouring out one’s grief in a form of medium. By writing out on her fantasy of her father who passed away in the tragic accident 12 years ago, it helped Melody to find a form of closure and communication with someone who had already passed on. It might sound supernatural but to a degree, it made sense as one starts to put themselves in other people shoes while writing them out in a novel, it helps enable one to see from other people’s perspective.
However, all the praises aside, in my humble opinion, Written By was let down by featuring Mia Yan as the older Melody who started writing the tale of her dead father. In a somewhat leading role, she lacks a certain acting caliber/on screen charisma (as compared to Lau Ching-wan) to carry the bulk of this movie and her performance faltered the essence of certain key moments.
Besides that, Written By is not an easily accessible film and definitely lacks the quick fix mass appeal to be shown in our local cinemas. It requires patience and the ability to gasp the various concepts that the film maker is throwing to the audience. Even for fans of Wai Ka Fai’s works, Written By would probably require repeated viewing to fully appreciate this complex tale.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
It’s a rare treat that this DVD feature a Cantonese dialogue option beside the usual Mandarin dialogue. The Visual and Audio features are presented here are in acceptable quality.
by Richard Lim Jr
Posted on 16 October 2009