Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, I’d be down for either, if you know what I mean!
Written By: Kar Wai Wong
Directed By: Kar Wai Wong
I don’t think I’ve talked about this before, but every once in a while a film comes along that causes me to experience what I call the “giddy factor.” What does it take to trigger this giddiness you ask? I don’t know if I can adequately explain why it occurs, but certain movies make me happy beyond the norm. I watch the film, everything is going according to plan, I am enjoying myself, then something clicks inside of me. I can’t explain what clicks, but suddenly I’m not just enjoying the movie, I’m loving every second of it. I’m loving every second of the movie so much so that I can’t help but get that giddy feeling in my stomach that hearkens back to Mom’s home made cookies or discovering Spider-Man for the first time. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does happen I know I am in the middle of something special, a movie to to take stock of.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that Fa Yeung Nin Wa was triggering my giddy factor, but I know that I was giddy for most of the film. It wasn’t one thing either, it was the entire package of the film. Fa Yeung Nin Wa was like an intoxicating drink, once I took one sip I wanted another, and then another and each sip was better than the one to come before. Maybe this has something to do with effortless progression of the story. This is a film without filler, Fa Yeung Nin Wa ponders and thinks, it takes its time, but it never feels like it has gone off the rails. Each scene builds after the next, creating an almost unbearable tension at times. Sex never occurs during Fa Yeung Nin Wa, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the sexiest films I have ever seen.
Routine is a major part of Fa Yeung Nin Wa, but it’s not so much the routines followed as it is the falseness of the routines. Kar Wai Wong lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, this is a love story after all so we know where it is going to and what will happen, right? Every time I thought I had the routine figured out Wong would floor me with some new revelation. When I thought Fa Yeung Nin Wa was going to be a simple story of disconnect Wong threw me for a loop with the revelation that the unnamed spouses were cheating with one another. After that I suspected it was going to be a film about the lies Chow and Su Li-zhen, I’ll call her Chan from now on, endure at the hands of their spouses, then Wong punched me in the gut with the restaurant scenes when they admit they know of the affair. Finally I was convinced that Chan and Chow would never admit their love for one another, but then they did and in yet another moment of me getting bowled over by Wong, neither one followed through.
Much like the cautious relationship between Chow and Chan, the camera is just as cautious in Fa Yeung Nin Wa. Most of Fa Yeung Nin Wa is filmed from behind something, as if the camera is peering into the forbidden or trying to hide, but it just can’t. It’s a beautiful affect for the movie, because even though their relationship never reaches that next level physically, emotionally it does and that may be worse than a simply physical interaction. Or, maybe the camera takes this cautious approach because Wong is afraid of getting too close to the relationship and damaging it somehow, blossoming love is a very fragile thing after all. Maybe it’s just me, but when you can interpret different ways the camera might have been used you are dealing with a great film.
I have spoken in the past about the man crush that every male should hold for Tony Leung, and Fa Yeung Nin Wa further proves that it doesn’t matter whether you are heterosexual or homosexual as far as his appeal is concerned. Maggie Cheung on the other hand was a new find on my part. As much as I may joke about the sex appeal of both actors, that isn’t all they have to offer. Both are as mannered as could be in their roles, expressing the longing and pain of Chow and Chan. They don’t ask the audience to identify with them, they beg the audience to pay attention to what they are going through. That is a fine line to tread, a line that Leung and Cheung tread in exquisite fashion.
There isn’t a true plot to Fa Yeung Nin Wa, there is a story, but not a three or four act plot. That is okay, there doesn’t need to be a plot. The story is about Chow and Chan, watching their non-relationship, experiencing the formalities of their lives, the stolen glances, the longing and the ultimate resignation. It may seem like I am belaboring a point, and I am, but it irks me sometimes when I hear people complain about the lack of plot in a movie. Yes, there are movies that suffer because of a lack of plot, but Fa Yeung Nin Wa is an example of a movie that excels because it isn’t about any plot but the people in the movie.
I’ve come to the end of my review and I haven’t mentioned my favorite aspect of Fa Yeung Nin Wa, Maggie Cheung’s amazing costumes as deigned by William Chang. In scene after scene he draped Cheung in exotic colors that were evocative of the time, hugged Cheung’s figure to perfection and managed to bring out the color of the sets even more. I don’t often notice costume design, but the dresses Cheung wore in Fa Yeung Nin Wa drew my attention from the start, there wasn’t a less than stellar dress in the bunch.
After that false start we are truly at the end of my review of Fa Yeung Nin Wa. I’ve gushed an awful lot, but this is a movie worth gushing over. I seriously considered declaring this the best movie I had ever seen after it finished. But, as great as Fa Yeung Nin Wa is, I’ll need more than this initial viewing to make that sort of declaration. What I can tell you is that Fa Yeung Nin Wa is a terrific film, one that I am so happy to have finally watched. As I make my way through the career of Kar Wai Wong I can only hope that he can continue the wonderful film making I have been privy to in what I have experienced so far. Unlike its lead characters there’s no reason for you to hold back and show caution, Fa Yeung Nin Wa is a movie that is worth forming a relationship with, over and over again.