Love Story (2006)
Directed by: Kelvin Tong
Breaking through critically in Hong Kong with Rule #1 (2007), the Ekin Cheng/Shawn Yue genre-mishmash of among other things the horror- and the buddy cop-flick, the year earlier Andy Lau's "FOCUS: First Cuts" program chose Singapore's Kelvin Tong as part of their mission to promote new, young talent. Having been noticed in his native country in 2005 when he gave the local screen the horror movie The Maid, Love Story (also produced in Singapore) has darker moods but as Tong explains in the director's statement, he wanted to shoot a film the way one would write a book. Meaning he would favour narrative complexities (such as flashbacks, flashforwards etc) and he also claims the movie is his tribute to the written word. Possibly he's turned me off reading forever then.
Trying to sum up the plot of Love Story and interpret characters is a little tricky because Tong isn't playing by any set rules. Clearly signaling that much that goes on throughout this very surreal experience is about love, view on love, how you equip yourself with the tool of love, how you can toy with others etc, Tong's initial 30 minutes are quite something to behold though. Detailing in fragments writer Jiang Qin's (Allen Lin) relationships with a variety of women, one is a mute theatre usher (Tracy Tan) that constantly recites the words of a banned book behind her black mask. Okidoki. Doing his promised flashforward, Tong shows that the two have engaged in some kind of relationship and she even breaks down during one moment when she writes on her chalkboard that she's forgotten her words.
There's also a quirky side to Jiang Qin's mostly sexual relationship with a bondage-loving cop (Erica Lee) who also investigates cases involving missing writers (in fact rivals to Jiang Qin). Seemingly giving us the final twist of the movie before the mentioned opening credits 30 minutes in, stuff on display has already taken downright weird detours and we question the reality of it all. Point being that this is book-material Jiang Qin finalizes in his head, no matter how these relationships in real life ended? Up until that 30 minute mark, I had a vague idea and an appreciation for the bold techniques by Kelvin Tong. Then he goes personal (probably), even more weird and vague.
I can argue you should be and flow with a film to see where it takes you and with Love Story you should attempt that stance. Set to a soothing piano score at points and certainly very well crafted technically, it's not easy to flow once you start getting frustrated. The odd fascination of Jiang Qin's stance towards relationship and love (making him very unsympathetic, especially in the way he controls a timid librarian but tables turn when he gets whiff of a wildchild played by Amanda Ling. A meeting that may spell ultimate doom), continues to be explored and he explains to his publisher (Ben Yeung) that his belief is that love requires sacrifice. Is that why we get bloodshed early on in the film or that was fiction? Ultimate purpose still seems to remain the core meaning of love but Tong loses it in a barrage of vignettes making little sense.
Kelvin Tong could've proudly joined a group of filmmakers creating weird cinema for the hell of it because there is something valid at times about escaping to incoherency. Tong isn't enough of a cool kid in that regard though and clearly taking seriously what he brings us in his director's statement, the randomness on display fall into a arthouse category I personally can't side with. Depth and analyzing I do agree with but Tong's massive attack on the senses doesn't create an invite back to explore more. Doubt it would've been better in book-form either. Tong's trip to Hong Kong proved he has clear, concrete intentions and hopefully Love Story was an experiment, a possibly personal journey that he got out of his system. If those intentions are still there, grow up! At one point one reviewer says of Jiang Qin as filling his book with "nonsensical, detailed facial expressions and unmotivated emotions". Kelvin Tong doesn't realize by featuring this quote and doing it himself, he turns the movie on himself.
The DVD (IVL):
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
*Making Of (19 minutes, 30 seconds). Promotional in nature and with little insight, amusingly enough hearing the actors explain characters specifically, confuses additionally. Program features English and Mandarin language and has imbedded English/Chinese subtitles.
*The trailer and a Photo Gallery (8 images). The Director's Statement can also be found on the postcard included with the dvd.
*FOCUS: First Cuts Showreel touts the project at hand, bombastically, and briefly promotes the films involved while full trailers for I'll Call You, Crazy Stone, The Shoe Fairy, Rain Dogs and My Mother Is A Belly Dancer are also provided. Visit focusfirstcuts.com for an overview of the project, director's statements and much more.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson