D: Wong Kar Wei; with Tony Leung Chi Wah, Bridget Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro.
The second of director Wong Kar Wei's films to be released last year,
Cheung King Express isn't quite as ambitious or complex as its immediate
predecessor, Ashes of Time, but it is no less masterful or brilliantly
structured. Kar-Wei's film is a sort of quasi-anthology (have fun spotting the
clever linking device) dealing with a pair of lovelorn street cops finding
romance in the most unlikely of places. It offers up some great performances,
gobs of visual style, and an exquisite atmosphere that perfectly captures the
mood and character of the fast-paced city called Hong Kong. The first segment
finds a broken-hearted cop (Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro) who, while coping
with the loss of his pineapple-loving girlfriend, winds up falling in love with
a charismatic, but deadly, drug pusher (Swordsman II's Bridget Lin). The
second half details the bizarre relationship that blossoms between a lively,
fast-food counter clerk (newcomer Faye Wong) and yet another police officer
recovering from a failed romance (Hard-Boiled's Tony
Leung Chi Wah). Splendid scenes abound, with Takeshi's initial meeting with Lin (who sports a fluffy blonde wig for her role), as well as Leung Chi Wah's many conversations with his understanding bar of soap (?!), being particularly delightful. But the really great thing about Cheung King Express is that nearly every scene feels so wondrously alive, pulsing with a rhythm and energy missing from similar slice-of-life comic melodramas. This totally charming and uplifting entertainment confirms Wong Kar Wei's reputation as one of world cinema's best-kept secrets, a problem soon to be rectified, as Miramax has seen fit to take the advice of fan Quentin Tarantino and pick up Cheung King Express for stateside release sometime in 1996. The film recently won Hong Kong's 1994 film awards in the categories of best film, director, actor, and editing. Cheung King Express can be rented, along with many other Asian rarities, at Skyline Books and Video; 873-0585. - Joey O'Bryan IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS
New Yorker Video
D: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; with Volker Spengler,
Ingrid Caven, Gottfried John, Elisabeth Trissenaar, Eva Mattes, Günther Kaufmann.
Many years ago, Elvira was known as Erwin. That was back when she was a man. But then she fell in love with Anton Saitz, a brothel owner and black marketeer on a fast track toward respectability. Anton rejected Erwin's love, saying "Maybe, if you were a woman...." Impulsively, and despite his marriage to Irene and his commitment to their daughter, Erwin hops the next flight to Casablanca for some quick sex change surgery. Three weeks later, Erwin, who has redubbed himself Elvira, returns to Frankfurt, where this story takes place. Elvira races to Anton who, after recognizing who she is, laughs in her face. Elvira beats a hasty retreat and only then does she realize the consequences of what she has done. Oh my, the things we'll do for love. Love, in the world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder - Germany's meteoric director of the 1970s - is a question of power and control, a dance between a victimizer and a victim. Love can be bought and sold. Love can make you feel lonelier than you felt without it. You see this theme repeated over and over again in Fassbinder's work which, though it was prolific, was cut short by his early death in 1982. In a Year of 13 Moons is a fine example of Fassbinder's signature style that uses a core company of actors and Brechtian narrative techniques designed to provoke viewer reaction rather than passive absorption. In an unusual move, Fassbinder not only wrote and directed this film, he also shot and edited it himself. Certainly, for those familiar with Fassbinder's career, there are autobiographic shades to 13 Moons, which was shot shortly after the suicide of his lover, Armin Meier. (This was not the first of Fassbinder's love affairs to end in such a manner.) 13 Moons tells the story of the final five days of Elvira's lonely life. She cuts a pathetic figure, looking more like an ungainly man in drag than a comely, "I love being a girl" transsexual. Raised in an orphanage, Elvira has always been starved for love. She has just been dumped by her current lover, who she used to support with money she earned from prostitution. Elvira also maintains an ongoing emotional relationship with her wife and daughter. Because she has exposed Anton Saitz's notorious past in a giddy newspaper interview, Elvira visits Anton to beg forgiveness. Anton, who is a survivor of the concentration camps, has become a prominent Frankfurt businessman. He runs his company the same perverse way he ran his brothels and black market trade: based on organizing principles learned in the camps. One of the movie's most bizarre scenes occurs during this visit when Anton and all his subordinates cavort around the office to some demented Jerry Lewis dance routine they ape from the TV. The other scene that any potential viewer should be prepared for is the extremely disturbing and lengthy slaughterhouse scene that occurs early in the film. As Elvira walks through this place where Erwin used to work, she relates a good deal of her personal history. The entire rendering process is shown in shocking detail, from the reflexive quivering of the dead animals to the seamless removal of their hides. Even the most dogmatic meat lovers will blanche. But in the context of this movie, the slaughterhouse scene becomes a preamble to the victimization and death yet to come, and a corollary to the concentration-camp mentality of Anton. Often excruciating to watch, In a Year of 13 Moons makes us understand the depth of Elvira's pain and gives her an expressiveness she never could achieve on her own.
- Marjorie Baumgarten
HEAR MY SONG
D: Peter Chelsom; with Adrian Dunbar, Ned Beatty, Tara Fitzgerald, Shirley Anne Field, William Hootkins.
Those viewers who enjoyed Chelsom's most recent film Funny Bones probably will want to see his first feature, which received equally enthusiastic reviews. Hear My Song shares many similarities with Funny Bones, the most obvious one concerning the unpredictable world of theatrical talent booking. Mickey O'Neill (Dunbar) is an Irish expatriate living in England as manager of Heartly's, a music hall once removed from its glory days. Mickey is desperate to book decent acts with enough drawing power to pay off the family of landlords intent on running him out of business. In love with Nancy (Fitzgerald) but unable to utter more than "Vice versa!" in response to her passionate "I love you"s, Mickey finds himself dumped as a fiancé. Soon after, Mickey loses his job at Heartly's when he unsuccessfully tries to pass off an impostor (Hootkins as the boisterous Mr. X) as Irish tenor Josef Locke. Desperate to prove himself to Nancy and her mother Cathleen (Field), who is Locke's old flame, Mickey departs for Ireland in search of the real and reclusive Locke, run out of England for tax evasion some twenty years earlier. Hear My Song's magical and funny vignettes are also similar to scenes from Funny Bones: a tooth extraction performed on a drunken bar patron by an ex-veterinarian and a scene in which Mickey tries to measure a country well are bumblingly hilarious. Chelsom shares screenwriting credit with Dunbar on this film, and the two have crafted whimsical characters who nonetheless appear tangible through their dedicated efforts to connect with each other. "How do we want to be remembered?" asks the elusive Locke, robustly played by Beatty. With Hear My Song and now Funny Bones, director Chelsom builds a career for which he may be remembered as a director of warm, delightfully surprising, and tremendously funny films. - Alison Macor