Love In A Fallen City (1984)
by: Ann Hui
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1985:
I came to love Chow Yun-Fat like most others did, through the works of action master John Woo. Yes, there's no doubt that Chow Yun-Fat is the world's coolest action hero but what I came to respect more was the actual acting. There was human drama present in John's films and Chow rarely missed a beat when it came to having perform that aspect of the films. Of course, as years progressed, I went through Chow's filmography, looking for the drama gems (not as widely seen in the West sadly) and today such movies as An Autumn's Tale ranks as absolute favourites of any genre in Hong Kong cinema for me.
At the end of 2002, Celestial/IVL finally began putting out the remastered Shaw Brother's catalogue on dvd and part of the first wave was Ann Hui's Love In A Fallen City. I certainly haven't heard of it and probably not many others due to the fact that Shaw's never really licensed their catalogue of films for home video releases. In the case of this movie there was a Pioneer Japanese Laserdisc edition without English subtitles released but it took 18 years before Love In A Fallen City, Chow's second collaboration with Hui and co-star Cora Miao (both were in the sought after The Story Of Woo Viet, shot in 1981) could be widely seen.
Based on the novel by Eileen Chang set in 1940's Shanghai and Hong Kong, we meet Liu Su-Pai (Cora Miao), living a depressed existence in a large family. The heads of the family are constantly looking to getting their daughters married but Pai, after a divorce many years ago, has given up any hope that she will meet a man or amount to anything in life. She does agree though to go to Hong Kong and meet Mr. Fan (Chow Yun-Fat). Fan sees in Pai what many others doesn't and tries his hardest to make her love again. Also brewing underneath is talks of an Japanese invasion of Hong Kong...
My viewing experience of Ann Hui movies was before Love In A Fallen City restricted to her latest output, Visible Secret and July Rhapsody. Having heard her quoted as a good director, those two works cemented that reputation. However going back as far as 1984 doesn't mean we find less quality on hand. On the contrary, there are many strengths in this romantic drama but I didn't expect it to be this challenging.
On a side note, first thing that you're greeted with is the extremely crappy Shaw Brothers logo that apparently, somewhere between the 70s and 80s, replaced the wonderfully classy one that most of us have seen. With that ugliness out of the way, it was exciting to find out that Love In A Fallen City was not all what I expected. Ann Hui gives us a very talky romance focusing on strict Chinese family values and a struggle it takes for two to actually fall in love. Not being prepared certainly doesn't hurt the film, nor is not knowing much of Chinese family values and the way setting up marriages work but I must warn you that you have to listen carefully to fully take in what Ann Hui is communicating to us. It's more a film for Hong Kong people than for Westerners but the themes at their core are not restricted to Asian culture only.
The meaning of the film lies in the meeting and developing relationship between Fan & Pai. It's very much an unexpected complex romance we're treated to, with numerous scenes of dialogue between the two and Fan's attempts at making her love him. That is what it basically is and it's interesting that the two doesn't seem to want to be part of the laid down rules. He has been abroad and lost touch with his Chinese ways while she has been so outside of it that she doesn't want to begin following it again. We're unsure of his motives since he does act in an insensitive way, says harsh things but he's actually challenging the said rules by wanting to LOVE the woman he's set up with. Also, it's a personal challenge for Fan, more so since Pai has her guard up most of the time but ultimately can't hide the fact that she is longing for love. It's quite an involving trip that could've suffered a few times at the hands of obvious movie clichés. Thankfully Ann Hui makes these moments seem fresh and the emotional core she builds up gets paid off when the relationship reaches a point where they may lose each other. Hui also touches upon how the westernization of Hong Kong people is frowned upon and in addition to that wisely chooses to not deal with making characters out of the invading Japanese forces, just stating that they're there and it happened at one point in history. With so much dialogue and things to digest, Fung Cho's writing does become a bit muddled at times but if you do take a liking to the film the first time, I think a second viewing where you listen even more could be rewarding.
Being a Shaw Brother's production, the film looks outstanding. Interior and exterior design is of the highest caliber and it's a wonderful transportation for the viewer to the 1940s. When the invasion happens later in the film, it's integrated almost to a degree of perfection, not showing much but not bound by budget restraints either.
That the relationships between Fan and Pai is involving is not only a tribute to the writing but the chemistry between our two leads Chow Yun-Fat and Cora Miao. Chow enters the picture relatively late so we're first getting aquatinted to Cora's character. I would say that I can't find any flaw with her performance, playing the saddened, shy Pai that only truly opens up with Fan. It's one of those characters that, because of how she is, is perceived as ugly but with the right person and environment is a true beauty. For Chow, this film was the most successful financially out of his 1984 output but Taiwan rightly gave him a award for his work in Hong Kong 1941 instead, also set during the same historical events. In Love In A Fallen City he impresses with his natural charisma and is as handsome and suave looking as he is today. As with the romance, the character can be harder to grasp, his true intentions about getting to know Pai etc. but Chow does deliver, even if it isn't a career best performance. He and Cora have solid chemistry and so much a part why Love In A Fallen City gets such a strong emotional response from the viewer towards the end.
Ann Hui's Love In A Fallen City is for an audience who doesn't say no to listening and thinking while watching. I would of course recommend it to any Chow Yun-Fat fan and it's a thought provoking and engaging romantic drama finally available to the masses. Shaw Brother's was more than just martial arts.
Celestial/IVL presents the movie in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The remastered print looks lovely, doing justice to the intended colours and hazy nature of the cinematography. One or two scenes feel a little dark though plus the occasional print damage does show up.
The Cantonese language track is remixed into 5.1 and is a pleasant listen. Most of the movie is dialogue driven and only a few times it gets mildly distorted. The explosions and gunfire towards the end seem a bit too loud but nicely integrated into this mix. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.
The English subtitles are very good thankfully since this film relies much on dialogue. The odd error in the forms of letters that aren't supposed to be there pop up and at times, the same subtitles line repeats itself (an error on the first few batches from Celestial/IVL). Other subtitle options are Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Being part of the first batch, Love In A Fallen City has a number of extras (the supplements was not as generous as the releases went on), starting with the feature length audio commentary with Stefan Hammond (author of Sex & Zen and A Bullet In The Head and Hollywood East) and actress Almen Wong (Till Death Do Us Part, Her Name Is Cat). On the plus side, first half has a decent amount of discussion regarding aspects such as cinematography and the cast & crew's careers. Brief history is given about Shanghai plus some of the actual locations used in the film The problem with Hammond in particular is that he seems to start going in-depth on a particular subject but never does and Almen is basically there to provide some basic insights as a viewer. The second half of the track almost stops dead completely and while the two do not necessarily begin narrating the film, discussing what goes on it in general is not an excuse either. Fairly informative although most of what you hear will be known to you or found on other parts of the dvd. Note that the commentary starts about 35 seconds into the film but the participants actually started at the top, making the commentary out of sync. This isn't much of a problem since they aren't completely screen specific all the time but needed to be mentioned.
Moving on, we have three newly filmed English language interviews (in anamorphic widescreen) with the director of the film, Ann Hui, actress/model Maggie Q and Hong Kong cinema expert Paul Fonoroff. Ann Hui talks about growing up reading kung-fu novels, the directors she admired growing up (martial arts ones actually including Chang Cheh and King Hu) and favourite movies of hers (again in the martial arts genre). Subsequently she touches upon topics such as the new wave of directors that she belonged to and her attitude towards the portrayal of women in Hong Kong cinema. Sadly, Love In A Fallen City is never discussed once but at 8 minutes and 39 seconds, this segment is a decent watch.
(from the Ann Hui and Paul Fonoroff interviews)
Maggie Q on the other hand, despite having nothing to do with it, discusses Love In A Fallen City more specifically. We're not talking scholar like insights but at least she did have something to say about cinematography, wardrobe, acting etc. Clearly, Celestial are aiming at a larger market by having people like Maggie Q do interviews for this dvd and other titles have featured actors/actresses with no connection to the movies at hand either. Mostly they're there to plug themselves but thankfully this 8 minute, 6 second interview never goes down that road.
Paul Fonoroff talks about Eileen Chang and the fact she worked as a screenwriter on Chinese comedies as opposed to her novel work which was more serious. He also discusses that people in the industry thinks the Eileen Chang way of writing doesn't always gets transferred well to the screen (other novels of hers have turned into films, including Eighteen Springs, also directed by Ann Hui) and the set design of Love In A Fallen City, an aspect many remembers. A few nice insights but the 4 minute running time doesn't get in depth obviously.
Behind The Scenes is a picture gallery (18 screens but some contain more than one image) with helpful captions to illustrate what and who we're watching. Nice to have actual behind the scenes photos and not just publicity shots or lobby cards.
New releases has newly created trailers (with Cantonese and Mandarin audio available but no English subtitles) for the following Celstial/IVL releases: The Kingdom And The Beauty, The Tea House, Killer Clans and The Price Of Love. The Trailers section has the new trailer for Love In A Fallen City and, to my delight, the original, horrible looking, cinema trailer. Celestial may not have worked with a print this bad but nonetheless, after watching the original trailer, you can't help but to admire the final result seen in the feature.
(from the original and new trailer respectively)
Music Video is for a song played in the film and set to clips from the film. Change the soundtrack (or choose in the menu) and you get a karaoke version of the track. Chinese Lyrics are imbedded on the clip.
The Movie Information section has 10 Colour Stills from the film, the original poster (also seen on the back cover of the dvd in smaller size), production notes that are actually the plot synopsis and biographies/filmographies for Chow Yun-Fat, Cora Miao, Ann Hui and Eileen Chang. The bio's for Hui and Chang go fairly in depth but overall they are informative.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson