Bittersweet love stories are what Peter Ho-Sun Chan does best, as perfectly exhibited by the nine Hong Kong Film Awards win in 1996 for Comrades, Almost a Love Story (sometimes also credited as Tian Mi Mi) starring Leon Lai (Seven Swords, Heroic Duo) and Maggie Cheung (In The Mood for Love, Clean). He returns as a director in Perhaps Love, the first musical to be produced in China in more than 30 years, currently Hong Kong’s contender for this year’s Oscar Foreign Film entry, after a 2-year absence in the director’s chair in exchange for the role of producer for a number of films, namely that of the horror genre. For this latest offering, Chan employed the talents of upcoming Chinese actress, Zhou Xun, Asian heartthrobs Takeshi Kaneshiro and Ji Jin Hee as well as Hong Kong cantopop superstar, Jacky Cheung.
Perhaps Love explores the darker connotations attached to the complicated notions of love: selfishness, hate, obsession, bitterness and desperation that are intermingled with emotions of love and affection. Nie Wen (Jacky Cheung), a somewhat fledging director is trying to make a comeback film to prove that he is the celebrated auteur deserving of previous praises. Casting his long-time partner, Sun Na (Zhao Xun) in the leading role, he is prepared to film a musical Romeo and Juliet set within the colourful world of the circus. The character of the girl, having lost her memory, has joined the circus and has fallen in love with the circus master. But she bumps into her old lover, who tries to win her affection from the circus master and remind her of their past. To play the role of the lover, Nie Wen cast popular Hong Kong actor, Lin Jian Dong (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
However, unbeknownst to him, Sun Na and Lin Jian Dong had a previous relationship while they were struggling students in Beijing a decade earlier. Discontent with the life they lead, Sun Na jilted Lin Jian Dong and left Beijing in search of fame and fortune. At the same time, when the role of the circus master fails to be cast by the actor Nie Wen wants, he casts himself into the role, unwittingly working out the relationship of his lover and the actor he hired through the film he was trying to make. It is through the making of the film, and the intermeshing of his real life and his film that he writes and rewrites the outcome of the story. Korean actor, Ji Jin-hee, who had to learn how to sing in Mandarin for the film, plays multiple roles throughout the film - as a narrator for the audience and as mysterious ‘guardian angels’ to both Sun Na and Nie Wen. Just as his various roles remind the characters of the emotions they repressed, his presence reminds the audience that we are watching a film within a film.
Furthermore, the audience is also told the story of Lin Jian Dong and Sun Na’s love affair through flashbacks that are further intensified by the different techniques of cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Peter Pau. Doyle filmed the Beijing scenes in stark white, reflecting the coldness of winter and the barrenness of their lives, possibly a shadowing of Sun Na and Lin Jian Dong’s relationship while Pau dressed the Shanghai sets with warm greens and fiery reds. The circus atmosphere is heightened through the dancing, choreographed by Farah Khan, who was also the choreographer for the West End musical Bombay Dreams.
Bertha Chin in Singapore - Rating: ****