Director: Mabel Cheung & Alex Law
Cast: Tang Wei, Sean Lau, Amanda Qin Hailu, Boran Jing, Jue Huang, Elaine Jin, Jianyi Li
Runtime: 2 hrs 11 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 17 September 2015
Synopsis: Set in turbulent China in the late 1930’s during the Sino-Japanese War, FANG (Sean Lau) falls in love with CHEN (Tang Wei). However, Fang’s former life of espionage makes him the target of both the Nationalists and the Communists. Together, they struggle across the country in an attempt to flee from his past, but the surrounding danger forces them to separate not only from each other, but also from their own children. Through the bombings of Shanghai, the massacres in Nanjing, and other atrocities that are born through war, their unbreakable bond gives them the strength and courage to endure. Through amazing twists of fate, they overcome insurmountable odds, encounter amazing individuals, and experience heart-warming miracles. Based on a miraculous true story and brought to the screen by two of Asia’s biggest stars, the love between Fang and Chen reflects a generation’s strength in a time of despair, and a country’s hope for a brighter future.
And why wouldn’t you watch anything starring Sean Lau? The 51 year old Hong Kong actor is good playing any role – from comedies like My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002) and Himalaya Singh (2005) to intense dramas like Life Without Principle (2011) and The White Storm (2013)., this reviewer would watch anything the multi award winning actor is in. Of course, old timers would remember the struggling jazz musician he portrayed opposite Anita Yuen’s cancer stricken girl in Derek Yee’s C’est la vie, mon cheri (1994). The tearjerker is an integral part of Hong Kong’s illustrious film history.
And that is why, sparks aren’t exactly flying between Lau and his latest on screen partner Tang Wei (The Golden Era, Only You), we aren’t complaining. In this Chinese Hong Kong war romance film set in the late 1930s, Lau plays a secret agent who falls for a Tang’s beautiful fresh faced village girl. Doesn’t matter if the two of them are widowed, because true love prevails in yesteryear’s happier times. Their epic romance will bring them from Anhuito Shanghai, and then Hong Kong. Nothing will stand in the way for the ill fated lovers: not trying wartime circumstances, not fiery civil wars, not even the boatman who decides to throw an ailing Tang off the boat to avoid trouble with immigration officers.
Before you scoff at the unrealistic setups, you may want to take note that this wartime courtship is based on the lives of Jackie Chan’s parents. Yup, in the past, relationships are stronger as couples overcome the most difficult odds to stay together. Mabel Cheung’s (Echoes of the Rainbow, Beijing Rocks) latest film spares no budget to excite your senses. You see big sets and countless extras, you hear loud explosions and soaring soundtracks – the filmmakers are not shy about letting you know how much money and effort they’ve put into this project. Tim Yip’s (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) production design is a feast to the eyes. This is definitely a strong contender to represent Hong Kongat the Academy Awards.
Together with regular collaborator Alex Law (An Autumn’s Tale, The Soong Sisters), Cheung pens a story which seems too incredible to believe. The melodrama is over the top, and subtlety sure wasn’t taken into consideration. What makes this 131 minute feature engaging is Lau and Tang’s realistic acting. Lau puts his manly gruff to good use by playing a rugged man with nothing to lose. Tang is perfectly cast as the sweet faced villager who wants nothing more than a man to love her.
The two capable actors are complemented by equally wonderful Mainland Chinese actors Jing Boran (Lost and Love, Monster Hunt) and Qin Hailu (After This Our Exile, Red Amnesia). The man is a bespectacled agent who is charismatically likeable, while the older woman is a ‘big sister’ who knows a thing or two about being street smart to survive the era’s ordeals. These two will fall in love and be subjected to the same star crossed fates as their friends. While everything’s pretty predictable, watch out for a thoughtfully played out sequence towards the end of the film which may leave you holding back your tears.
(The epic melodrama offers nothing new with its predictable plot, but its cast does deliver top notch performances)
Review by John Li