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  Publicity Stills of "The Sun Also Rises"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

In Mandarin with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Jiang Wen
Cast: Joan Chen, Jaycee Chan, Zhou Yun, Anthony Wong, Kong Wei
RunTime: 1 hr 55 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: NC-16 (Some Sexual Scenes and Coarse Language)

Opening Day: 20 September 2007


Five years in the making, China’s most distinguished actor/director Jiang Wen’s latest film more than lives up to expectations. A new departure from the wistful nostalgia of In The Heat Of The Sun, and the kinetic power of Devils On The Doorstep, The Sun Also Rises is a poetic rhapsody on memory, madness, serendipity and an ode to pleasure and fantasy.

Gorgeously shot against breathtaking backdrops among swooping terraced hills of Yunnan ad the sweeping plains of Gobi Desert, the film juggles several time lines to offer insight into the mysterious forces that make people cross paths, and without cognizance, shop each other’s destinies.

Composed as a quartet of spellbinding stories, the film begins with a pastoral idyll about the magical and moonstruck existence of a young widow and her son. A pair of embroidered shoes sends the mother into a flight of fancy and delirium; but years later; a trip to her island hideaway reveals something of her past…

The second story, both hilarious and poignant, is set in a college campus at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution. It focuses on the desires between two Indonesian Chinese returnees and a voluptuous female doctor. A scandal revolving a ‘bum-pinching molester’ paradoxically binds and severs their ties.

In the next episode, the protagonist of the previous story is sent down to the village where the mad widow and her now grown-up son live. A riveting tale unfolds, about male egos and female bellies, and how caressing velvet can save or ruin lives.

The last story journeys back in time to the windswept Gobi Desert, home of nomadic Uyghur.

The film’s main protagonists converge in a single unified time and place. Posed at crucial junctures in life – marriage, death and birth, their predestined connections are finally unraveled.

Movie Review:

In his third directorial piece that took 5 years in the making, acclaimed Chinese writer-director-actor Jiang Wen crafted what I thought was a fantastical piece which had its characters transcend time and space, and one which I felt was more enjoyable in parts rather than as a combined whole.

In trying to weave together 4 distinct short films connected through common threads in the themes of chance, love, lunacy and having recurring characters interact at different points of the entire narrative told within different seasons in the year 1976, what resulted was something that came across quite forcefully, trying especially hard to hammer square pegs to round holes. But by having the stories stand alone, what comes across are enjoyable vignettes that play to the strengths of the various characters in focus.

Beautifully filmed against the lush, sprawling landscapes in Yunnan and the Gobi Desert, by no less than 3 different cinematographers in Zhao Fei (Raise the Red Lantern), Yang Tao (Lan Yu) and Mark Lee (In the Mood for Love), the beautiful score by Joe Hisaishi, frequent collaborator in Japanese director Haya Miyazaki's various anime, helped in a large part to accentuate and punctuate the mood correctly throughout, providing key emotional cues especially when things start to converge together questionably.

Of the four shorts, I liked the first two best. Starting with a rather madcap story about a deranged mother (Zhou Yun) and her villager son, played by Jaycee Chan, it is rooted strongly in the boy's love-hate relationship with his mother, who literally is driving him up the wall with her crazy antics, while at the same time he's trying to probe about his father and his origins. Though it can get repetitive at times, certain scenes do provide some comic slapstick relief, while I felt Jaycee had actually shown (in this and in a later part) potential in moving away from being typecast as the next action hero, no thanks to his lineage.

The second short owed its success to its cast, with stellar performances by Jiang Wen himself, Anthony Wong and Joan Chen, whose movies of late, like Saving Face and The Home Song Stories I have enjoyed thoroughly. Here, it tells of a story between a teacher, his best friend and a sexy doctor who revels in tight fitting garments (tell me those visible panty lines are not done on purpose), set against a backdrop of an accusation of molestation in an open air cinema. The hospital scene is to die for, watching Chen square off against Wong, and by this time, I would have thought that The Sun Also Rises gets dangerously close in depicting its female characters in rather negative light, susceptible to destructive, fluctuating mood swings.

The third and fourth short were more intertwined, but retained some repetitive nature (which I thought were just filling up time), and connects the fragmented narrative style in some scenes. But while the last attempted to join all the dots together, I felt the plot started to take a backseat to the scenic landscape shots, where picture postcard perfect scenery are framed so beautifully, they just take your breath away, before going full circle. There are strengths in this movie, especially when the veteran cast start to chew up screen time, but the stories unfortunately failed to sustain toward the end, despite keeping the promise somewhat to address a nagging question from the starting short.

Movie Rating:

(Beautiful to look at and fun to watch in parts, but the Sun failed to illuminate everything together and lost its shine in its final moments)

Review by Stefan Shih


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