A Fishy Story (1989)

Written & directed by: Anthony Chan
Producer: Chan Pui Wah
Starring: Kenny Bee, Maggie Cheung, Anthony Chan, Josephine Koo, Carrie Ng & Lam Chung

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1990:
Best Actress (Maggie Cheung)
Best Cinematography (Peter Pau)
Best Art Direction (Szeto Wai Yung)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1990:
Best Picture
Best Director (Anthony Chan)
Best Supporting Actress (Josephine Koo)

Anthony Chan, also actor on a regular basis through the 80s and a bit into the 90s (you can see him, in a nominated supporting performance, with Leslie Cheung in the Shaw Brother's movie Behind The Yellow Line and in the chilling 3 Days Of A Blind Girl opposite Veronica Yip), struck gold with this award winning romance, starring recent Best Actress winner at Cannes, for her performance in Clean, Maggie Cheung. Since little reviews from Chan's filmography are available, it's not too far fetched to assume that A Fishy Story was a definite highpoint in Chan's career, deservedly so. What he's brought the world of Hong Kong cinema with his fishy story is a romance of very expected and unexpected proportions, set against a highly serious backdrop.

Unlicensed taxi driver Kung (Kenny Bee) lives in a squatter hut strangely enough built into a more luxurious apartment that aspiring movie star Huang (Maggie Cheung) moves into. In order to look her best when going into her first movie role, Huang enlists Kung to be her personal driver. However times are tough and not overly kind to Huang and when she receives the news that her mother has past away, she loses everything including will to make her goals come true. With Kung by her side, a bond will develop now that they have to start over in 1960s Hong Kong in turmoil...

Already via the black and white opening montage, writer/director Anthony Chan establishes environment and character perfectly. Through the stills we see the people fighting for their rights and in the gorgeous and glamorous Huang's case, people fighting for that desired fur coat. Yes, Huang is one that seems to be able to shut out the world she considers to have no personal affect on her. Her openness, as we find out, is commendable but certainly her goals in life, being a movie star and being able to spend money freely is downright childish. However, developments later reveals a personal reason for her attempting to rise high and it's one of the many magic moments worth waiting for in Chan's film. It's also childish to think that her bonding with a struggling working man such as Kung will ever happen but as reality catches up with her, that will happen, as will a genuine struggle to maintain any kind of position in life.

Part lighthearted romance, part drama, Chan is striking a finely tuned balancing act for every conceivable story and moviemaking aspect. The classic boy meets girl but boy and girl being from apparently different walks of life is handled with, not so much an originality because we've seen it on occasions but nonetheless he manages to inject a freshness to the development between Kung and Huang. Something that holds much more true as the film rolls along and really takes some unexpected turns as far as movie romances go. After spending times in the warm hues, courtesy of director of photography Peter Pau's eye, it's interrupted by the actual people also inhabiting 1960s Hong Kong and our characters will receive a wake up call not only in terms of their continued bonding but also that life currently is a struggle whether you like it or not. It's of course primarily Huang who has her world crumble around her and everyone that she depended on is lost. Kung however chooses to depended on himself and it's that driving force that fascinates me about A Fishy Story. Chan really lets go off any hints to romance (even though we pretty much know of the outcome) and makes the movie much more real and also unfair, because times aren't. Case in point, Kung and Huang both start from the beginning again by saving up to buy their own Taxi car but an impending taxi strike quickly ruins their plans to begin flourish and it all boils down to characters having to make real decisions in order for life to continue taking steps forward.

The majority of these proceedings have a lighthearted tone but neither mood, whether it's tragedy or other forms of darkness, disrupts the other and Chan really makes this an joyous and affecting journey. Much thanks to the sympathetic nature to Maggie and Kenny's characters. It takes of course a little while for us to warm up to Huang but it's all in intent and handled with focus by Chan. Few comedy sequences or belly laughs are on offer but when they hit, it's absolutely nailed, in this case, by Maggie Cheung. In fact, as with other star vehicles of hers such as Center Stage and Comrades, Almost A Love Story, the entire film is a highlight reel of her beauty but within that, the comedienne Maggie Cheung also emerges. Best sequence being her ordering food, in English, but having learnt pronunciation from her Indian landlord. So my highest praise goes out to this multiple award winning actress who can nail any kind of emotional beat whether it's subtle, in hysterics etc.

Kenny Bee I've considered adequate as an actor but someone who's gotten better as years have passed. However, this is probably his best performance I've seen, backed up by a director of belief and focus to deliver just that. Kenny will never be able to perform with great texture of Francis Ng or Lau Ching Wan but he brings what's needed to this lowly man who's also finding it hard to make a living because the fight against injustice by so many others really stops any development of his. Kenny and Maggie also share a good deal of realistic chemistry to make us firmly believe in and wanting to follow their, well realized bond together. Josephine Koo and Anthony Chan himself co-stars.

A Fishy Story is a splendid gem of also unexpected depth. That depth does not rival the greatest romantic dramas but director Anthony Chan brings a fairly subtle texture to the film and balances the contrasting moods of the film with nothing less than great skill. Aspects such as the cinematography and production design also shine and as a final note, I admire that the film is beautiful despite being restricted in scale, intentionally so, for large parts. Within every frame, be it filled or only consisting of Huang and Kung, is expertise of the highest order and no doubt you'll be affected in many ways by this wonderful 1989 gem.

The DVD:

Besides being a bit high contrastwise in certain areas, the approximately 1.76.1 framed transfer offers a respectable view. Detail is merely ok but a relatively clean print and good colours makes Deltamac's disc a nice option currently.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds a little harsh but the sync sound recording of dialogue comes through well, as does music. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

The English subtitles are error free and seems to offer a well-worded translation. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extra is the trailer.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson