August 2019 Capsules

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2
Pushes its insistent rhymings with the first film past any reasonable limit: this is no mere referentiality, but conscious inversion and recontextualization from the opening moments, a class-flipped take on the predecessor’s opening scene. That this transpires with the two new main characters, Yeung Yeung and Paul, lends a further unpredictable charge, and a few scenes pass before the original tripartite dynamic is even partially restored — Qi Hong, not coincidentally the most (relatively) stable and committed character of the madcap ensemble, only makes sporadic appearances, which only begin more than twenty minutes in. Instead, the love triangle takes place between the volatile Shen Ran and the two newcomers, yet parallels crop up: Paul spends much of the second half in a soused state heavily reminiscent of Qi Hong in his original state, complete with a penchant for Johnnie Walker; Shen Ran takes Yeung Yeung to the same restaurant where he botched his initial engagement, directly mentioning this fact and prolonging the inevitable conversation until after dessert; Paul cooks seafood for Yeung Yeung in his own relatively humble quarters. “I must have met you before” is said by the new characters multiple times, and in a sense it’s true; by the time the opening is reinvoked once more with Chi Yan sitting on the bus in tears and Shen Ran driving by her in a sports car, the viewer would be forgiven for a strong case of déjà vu.

And yet it feels all so new, or at least cyclical in a way that feels genuine. The economic aspect sets the tone: where the global crash acted as a plot catalyst in the predecessor, here the sudden downturns and upturns feel ultimately immaterial, as of little consequence to the viewer as to the characters, wrapped up as they are in their love affairs. And as lovely as Gao Yuanyuan is once more, and as hard Louis Koo pushes himself (to great and perfectly absurd effect), Miriam Yeung absolutely defines this film. The dichotomy between her severe “queen of the stocks” status and the devil-may-care attitude with which she throws herself into love couldn’t be clearer, and her acceptance of Shen Ran’s proposal halfway through somehow feels both so wrong and so right.

That paradoxical feeling resonates throughout this, a disquietude that intermingles with the euphoria emanating from To’s visual confidence and his ensemble cast’s overflowing charisma. In a sense, this is to be expected: both Chi Yan and Genie, the octopus acting as a feebler but still wonderful stand-in for Froggy, display a consistent sense of “reverse thinking,” predicting the exact wrong thing, which proves great for sports and stocks betting but only muddles the waters further in the games of love. The continual sense of things being not quite right maps onto the sense of entrapment or limbo here, as characters enact the same scenarios over and over. But at the same time there’s such joy, such genuine astonishment on display; the last shot suggests at once infinite heartbreak, bitter defeat, and a feeling that the war is not yet over, and may never be over. In that sense, it’s a perfect sequel, in the sense that it consciously expands the original, inverting and altering it to enrich both parts. It feels so carefully considered, yet so inventive and energetic in the undertaking, that it exists both separately and apart, inextricable and yet fully, gloriously alive.

Asako I & II
Obviously have much, much more to say about this heartstopping masterpiece, but one of the most important aspects seems to be the sudden intrusion of the March 2011 earthquake, only hinted at by iOS designs amid the almost timeless/fantastical quality of the romances. Rather than grounding its surprising, almost radical approach to this odd love triangle, Asako I & II restrains itself to bounding and locating it, all the better to bring forth the flights of fancy. In a film filled to the brim with little details, feelings, and gestures, this act registers as one of the most quietly powerful.

A Confucian Confusion
The pleasures and interests in A Confucian Confusion are perhaps best expressed in two contradictory, yet not necessarily mutually exclusive, statements made less than five minutes apart: the categorization of Taipei as a small town and as a big place. Coupled with the opening statements the unusually direct intertitle (which in itself is counterposed with the elusive, mysterious dialogue snippet intertitles interspersed throughout) calling Taipei one of the wealthiest cities in the world, the impression is one of a space in total flux, befitting a milieu in which everything, no matter how seemingly settled and predestined the existing structures are. As always in Yang, the mercurial and unpredictable flights of human emotion clash with the glass windows and steel buildings: a theater director makes a swerve from postmodern abstraction to comedy, people fall in and out of love with almost alarming regularity, and people decide to seek other forms of employment. Yang, incongruously but perfectly, plays this roundelay of absurdity as farce, but there is a surfeit of scenes pitched at his usual, startling emotional level; if this doesn’t quite aim for a comedy of remarriage, the implications of its overall narrative feel deeply in kinship with his past work, with the comedy tradition, with the state of the modern world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s