Love Trilogy (2003)

Directed by: Derek Chiu
Written by: Aubrey Lam
Producers: Raymond Wong & Peter Chan
Starring: Francis Ng, Anita Yuen, Ruby Lin, Lu Wei, Han Xiao, Oh Ji-Ho & Wan Ju-Lei

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Three couples, out of Hong Kong, China and Korea respectively, traveling to the Yunnan province are about to face crucial turning points in their relationships. In between all of that turmoil, we find their tour guide Liu Hai (Ruby Lin), herself struggling with the notion of love. Especially now that these people are surrounding her all at the same time....

Love Trilogy generates interest beforehand because of the pan-Asian cast and the fact that director Chiu is returning to the smaller screen after his first, commercial outing, the decent Frugal Game. For directors achieving critical success in smaller scale films, the leap to mainstream filmmaking can prove to be difficult. Before Frugal Game, Derek had created a buzz with his quirky and hard to pin down-style of filmmaking with such films as Comeuppance & Love Au Zen. In that respect, Frugal Game wasn't a bad project but sadly did not have much for Derek to play around with either.

In Love Trilogy, Derek for the longest of time burdens us with what really is a deep, pessimistic view on love but also a real, grounded one. Which really is the key word for his romantic, 3-story drama. The screenplay comes from Aubrey Lam, who has in the past been seen writing for a variety of UFO (United Filmmakers Organization) productions and recently also has two directed films under her belt (Twelve Nights and Hidden Track). What she has focused on so far is love, even the pessimistic side of it which is something you really must have in mind going into Love Trilogy. For Chiu to take the subject on feels neither right or wrong but he seems to enjoy his freedom making a smaller film again. The end result is a consciously slow paced picture (something Derek has not been afraid of doing prior) with multiple long takes and visual experimentation (I say experimentation because Chiu really doesn't nail it every time). This time it's not hard to find the description Chiu's style because proceedings are directed rather straight, making the not very complex but valid themes of disillusioned love come to life fairly nicely actually.

Without extensive background checks for our quarreling characters, Aubrey Lam's script more importantly gives us sufficient to support the events in this film. We look at the Hong Kong couple, Mark (Francis Ng) and Chui (Anita Yuen), and how their 7 year relationship has taken its toll both on them and because of external attributes. The almost too familiar theme of Hong Kong's hardships reveals itself here but the point is between these two and the newlyweds Shanghai couple, played by Lu Wei and Han Xiao, is that love may be lost but you'll never truly know until you've actually taken time to find that out. In other words, what's presented on screen are two very unsympathetic couples, not about to leave their troubles behind or willing to look at their situation in order to better it. Mark and Chiu obviously have been nagging at each other for quite some time but never seems to ponder the idea of what they actually can do to reach an acceptable form of happiness at least. The newlyweds are the age old example of young people in love facing the ultimate test of being around each other all day. This is downbeat stuff, mainly in the 2nd 30 minute story (hence the clock image in the poster art), but Chiu strikes that balance between it being so downbeat, it's genuinely depressive, and humorous because it's SO severe the stage these couples are in, especially Mark and Chui.

The mood chosen by the filmmakers may prove to be a downfall for the movie, that far into it, because I've always gathered that negativity through movies doesn't register well with all viewers, understandably so. I can only speak for myself when I say that as long as there logically is a point to it all, I'm willing to explore further. Then again, I'm also a person that needs his balance between what's truly good in life and the negative aspects of it that surrounds us on a daily basis. That also applies to films and in general, downers like Till Death Do Us Part find a very strong liking with me despite its subject matter. In the end, with Chiu's non-linear narrative, his point becomes clear and the negativity surrounding much of the film pays off in our 3rd story about the Korean couple. Chiu goes some unexpected places here, both in structure and geography, and involves Ruby Lin's travel guide character to a bigger extent also. Before that, she was merely a rather pointless presence, the nicest person in the world really but it comes full circle when we get explanations as to why that is and how her view on love is. She becomes a very nice and sweet presence because of it. So if you were willing to dismiss the movie for just wanting to shove its head in the sand, please stick around for the third act.

I've more than often mentioned grounded and real and summarizing the acting on display, those words are applicable as well. Veterans Francis Ng and Anita Yuen brings just that and gives us the quarreling, sometimes funny, Mark and Chui in the dependable way you would expect. Having been away from films for a few years, Anita doesn't give us another gem of a performance like C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri but does justice to Aubrey Lam's stripped down writing and background to the characters. Francis is back on track nowadays as he divides his time between junk like Heroic Duo and giving us the performances Hong Kong cinema can be proud of, most recently in Infernal Affairs II. That wonderful glare of his makes for some great reacting in this film and a scene set outside a restaurant is really a testament to his marvelous skills. Here we see his final glimmer of hope vanquish. It's not much and based on misunderstandings but it's memorable.

Mainland actors Lu Wei and Han Xiao, are also directed well, being suitable images for the young couple that the movie requires. The bigger part of the melodrama comes with their story but Chiu I think has kept a very good focus on those keywords I've mentioned, real and grounded. He gets that out of his actors and they also rises to the challenge of maintaining that in a number of very long takes. The Korean actor Oh Ji-Ho also makes good use of his screentime as the apparently naive but ultimately positive character of Love Trilogy.

There, the Derek Chiu fans can sum up that the best works may still be behind him but after Frugal Game, it's a pleasure to see him making this kind of film again. Certainly, that's a hard throughline to keep as a director because everything is about box office but if you could balance, let's say the lesser commercial work with substantial small ones, in the case of Chiu, I think you should consider Hong Kong cinema to be a good working environment. Even better would be if people in hordes went and saw movies like can always dream right? As mentioned, Love Trilogy doesn't come close to Chiu's previously well executed films but for followers, this is still worth your time and attention. Love can be presented as something complex and be valid. This film keeps it straight, real and simple and still comes out as well-meaning.

The DVD:

Kam & Ronson presents the film in a 1.76:1 aspect ratio approximately. It's a little high on print damage but reasonably sharp overall. Some darker scenes registers a bit too much on the darker side though. Other companies could've done better with this recent film but it'll do for the price.

The Cantonese language track option obviously contains multiple languages (Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and English) but has little range. Sounds mono pretty much all the way but dialogue and music is presented well. That's what matters in a movie based mainly around dialogue. A Mandarin 2.0 track is also included and it dubs all parts not spoken in Mandarin.

The English subtitles feature a few errors but are in general good. Themes are not complex, dialogue isn't really either in the film but the subtitles live up to that. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extra is the theatrical trailer.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson