Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Review: Perhaps not its time !


Perhaps Love
Rating(out of 5): NR
(Golden Screen Cinemas)
Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhao Xun, Jacky Cheung, Ji Jin-hee, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng

WHEN it comes to musicals, you either love them or hate them. So why any sane, award-winning director would choose to return after almost 10 years with such a hit-or-miss comeback is anyone’s guess.

For his daringness alone, Peter Chan (Comrades, Almost a Love Story, He’s A Woman, She’s A Man) deserves an award. From the outset, Perhaps Love affirms Chan’s flair with its bling-bling set designs, colourful circus scenes, and mesmerising Bollywood-styled musical numbers. It is touted as one of the very few, if not the first, Chinese musicals ever produced on film.

And with choreography by Bollywood’s Farah Khan, the song-and-dance here is something to shout about.

Perhaps Love opens with actor Lin Jian Dong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) arriving in Shanghai to take on the starring role in a new musical helmed by renowned director, Nie Wen (Jacky Cheung), fully knowing that his old flame from a decade ago, Sun Na (Zhou Xun), will be his co-star. When they first met, Lin was studying at the Beijing Film Academy while Sun was performing at a local bar. He was a poor student, and she a songstress down on her luck. The two lonely souls connected and fell in love. But, Sun’s burning desire for fame ended their relationship. She left Lin for Nie, who then made her a star.

The musical they are both acting in is also coincidentally about a love triangle: an amnesiac woman, who forgets everything including her lover, is saved from the streets by a generous circus owner. The two fall in love but her lover finds her and tries to win her back. When she recovers her memory, she finds herself torn between her past and present.

As tale would have it, the actor slated to play the role of the circus owner turns it down at the last minute, and Nie has to step into the role. And so, life and art become entangled. Not surprisingly, the set sizzles with repressed emotions and unresolved tension as soon as the ex-lovers meet. And as Lin and Sun spend more time with each other on the set, memories of their past begin to overwhelm them. As the production of the musical progresses, the romance of their past is rekindled?

Told in a movie-within-a-movie style, the love triangle plot that mirrors the actors’ own lives promises an interesting dénouement. The actual execution, however, requires huge doses of faith on the part of the audience.

As jealousy, hatred and passion collide on the set of the musical, the movie flips back and forth in time as Lin and Sun’s past love story is revealed, evoking the intoxicating feeling of love as they shoot their movie. Unfortunately, as the narrative grows chaotic, so does the film.

The irreverent style and choppy editing make Perhaps Love attention-grabbing at first, but the novelty wears off. Too often, the movie’s irreverence comes across as self-congratulatory, and this makes it difficult to connect with it emotionally.

There are brilliant moments, though, which are complemented by the excellent cinematography by Paul Pau and Wong Kar Wai’s regular collaborator Christopher Doyle. My favourites are the tongue-in-cheek’s takes on the movie industry, including the promotional press conference scene.

The hits, unfortunately, are outnumbered by the misses. In particular, the overly-sentimental and melodramatic tone of the film works against it

Still the actors shine through the loud colours and blinding lights that is Perhaps Love. Here, Takeshi Kaneshiro does what he does best – playing the naïve, lovelorn puppy who is lost in his foolish romantic dreams. His quiet moments breathe life into the the film despite its ostentatiousness. Sleepless because of unrequited love, his character Lin wanders through the hotel alone at night. These scenes, though not totally original, resonate with the weight of emotion.

The under-rated Zhou Xun (of The Little Chinese Seamstress), also stands out. It’s about time people realise that there are many worthy Chinese actresses other than Zhang Ziyi.

An interesting character is Montage (Ji Jin-Hee), who plays the angel or muse of the musical. Sent down from the heavens, he appears in Shanghai with a mission – to put the tragic love story with the wrong ending right.

This little device, although obtrusive, gives the film an interesting angle. Only Jackie Cheung’s performance is a little wanting. Even so, he manages to steal the limelight in a few scenes. As a musical, the music in Perhaps Love is only passable; sometimes it even seems jarring to the action, making this a curious musical.

One thing is for sure: this is one of those movies that are an acquired taste. And pretensions aside, it is no Moulin Rouge.

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