December 21st, 2008

So lzh got back from doing some recycling and said, it’s not too cold outside, just windy, let’s go see a film.

We’d somehow managed to acquire coupons, enough for us to both see one film and to cover one ticket for another film, but the coupons expire at the end of the month, so we’re running out of time to use them. I wanted to see 《梅兰芳》, but lzh wanted to see Feng Xiaogang’s latest film, 《非诚勿扰》/If You Are the One. We arrived in time about half an hour before the next showing of 《非诚勿扰》, just in time to get a quick lunch then see the film, so that’s what we did.

It’s a strange film, 《非诚勿扰》. It is in many ways a welcome return to Feng Xiaogang’s comedy, but….

Well, the start was a little worrying. For a minute there I thought we would be treated to a rather too pompous, preachy pacifist film. I think Feng got that message across very effectively with Assembly. Fortunately, no, it all turned out to be Ge You’s sales pitch for his rather silly invention.

But no, strung through all this comedy, and especially heavy in the two main characters, was a rather dark streak. It was a Feng Xiaogang comedy doing a piss-poor job of concealing a romantic tragedy. Shu Qi’s character, 笑笑 (irritatingly translated as “Smiley” in the subtitles- yeah, it had Chinese and English subtitles, but not for all of the Japanese language bits), was particularly morose, weighed down by her doomed love for a married man, and as more was revealed of Ge You’s character, 秦奋, the more we saw that he was simply better at hiding his depression than she was.

Depression? It was as much oppression as depression, the weight of other’s actions or inactions pressing them down.

And their relationship is strange. It get’s off to a false start, then seems to be based more on the convenience of having an equally depressed, lonely shoulder to cry on than anything else. At the end there seems to be love involved, but we don’t see that develop.

And what’s with the sudden obssession with suicide? Sorry, can’t explore that any further without spoiling it.

But somehow he manages to pull off a happy ending without pulling a Hollywood and drowning us in saccharine. Just.

The performances were good. Ge You was superb, managing both comedy and tragedy in one character. Shu Qi was also good, but her role didn’t require so much of the comedy.

The verdict? Good film, but disturbing. It’s a good thing we decided against using up the remainder of our coupons on 《梅兰芳》. 《非诚勿扰》 is more the kind of film you follow up with a bottle of vodka and a game of Russian roullette than  with another film. Well, no, it’s not that disturbing, but it is certainly a film that needs time to digest.

But it has me wondering if Feng Xiaogang is doing a Giraudoux. Well, it’s been 10 years since I took that paper on the theatre of Jean Giraudoux, but I certainly remember him being a brilliant writer and his oeuvre getting progressively darker as time wore on. In Giraudoux’s case, it’s easily understandable, considering he started writing plays after World War 1, saw the next war coming from a mile off, and continued working in Paris through the occupation, dying there only a few months before the liberation. But Feng Xiaogang? He goes from Cellphone and A World Without Thieves suddenly to the much, much darker films The Banquet, Assembly and now this. I’m starting to suspect Feng Xiaogang must’ve been a Kiwi in a previous life.

Anyway, watch the film, but expect to leave it feeling disturbed.

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