Till Death Do Us Part (1998)
by: Daniel Lee
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1998:
Best Actress (Anita Yuen)
Daniel Lee is slightly famous internationally since he directed the Jet Li vehicle Black Mask. The downside to that was having his film 'blessed' with a shortened running time, English dubbing and a new score. His other movies are clearly not for an American market since he has divided his time between drama (A Fighter's Blues) and martial arts (What Price Survival). A Fighter's Blues didn't really become as good as Daniel aimed at but with Till Death Do Us Part he displays a directing talent that's up there with the best of them.
Bo Bo (Anita Yuen from From Beijing With Love) has the perfect marriage according to herself but outside of her happy mind, her husband Alex (Alex Fong from Portland Street Blues) is not so happy. He has been with another woman for 2 years and on one night of celebration he breaks the news to Bo Bo. She is deeply hurt and the only thing stopping her from going into deep depression is the love for her daughter Cowboy. As time goes by she does get more and more careless which results in Alex wanting to have custody over Cowboy (Wong Man Yi). As the glimmer of hope fades away, Bo Bo's life becomes darker and darker...
The pain of divorce is something I and many others have had to endure. My parents separated in 1999 and discussing why and who's fault it is is difficult, both in my case and in Daniel Lee's movie. Bo Bo is of course the one portrayed as the victim and the hurt individual, which is correct. If you're in her shoes you're not the first one to point out your own shortcomings and it's easier to fully lay the blame on someone else. Even if I strongly oppose starting a relationship within one, I still think Bo Bo is partly to blame because of her ignorance of the things going on around her. Alex is the one who sees the happiness in her that isn't really there and at the same time his job as a cop is a heavy burden to carry. That makes it not entirely wrong of him to seek out his happiness in Belle (Almen Wong), even if he is a married man. What he does right is making sure his family is taken care off financially but he can't turn his back on it completely. One because of his child and two because of what the suffering of Bo Bo is doing to Cowboy. So all in all, Bo Bo is the victim but both parties involved are responsible for what happened. What all that can lead to is then shown in Till Death Do Us Part in a very powerful way.
Till Death Do Us Part was Daniel Lee's first collaboration with ace director Derek Yee (acting as producer on this and the, to date, latest Daniel Lee movie A Fighter's Blues) and it's a very good production thanks to that. The whole feel is not totally unlike a Derek Yee directed film but I'm not taking anything away from Daniel because he's done a competent piece of Hong Kong cinema here. He displays many stylistic film tricks in his tale of breakdown and for the most part it actually work really well. He starts the movie with an almost ridiculously romantic (but in a good way for his film) credits sequence that shows what Bo Bo and Alex had at the beginning. If this had been a romantic comedy this intro would've killed the movie because it's so damn positive, almost makes you want to vomit (if not the song played over the sequence will). Daniel continues to inject more wild camerawork and editing, especially in the few, but hard hitting, violent scenes. The almost free for all camerawork does great things for the chaos and the atmosphere within these scenes. The aspect that works the best is the several examples of intercutting seen in a few sequences. Daniel often cuts to moving but colourless past events and also uses still frames at times to illustrate his points. The best moments in terms of intercutting is when we see the fairy tale that Bo Bo tells to her daughter actually played out for us. Bo Bo works as a part time animator and the story she's written so clearly mirrors the downward spiral in her life. As she tells more and more of it, it turns darker and grimmer. All this visual trickery doesn't get in the way of storytelling because Daniel makes it part of it instead. That way he can focus on one aspect, instead of two at times.
I'm not finished talking about our director's work but to continue that we have to start mentioning our leading lady Anita Yuen. The movie is so dependent on her performance and how Daniel directs the character handling the new circumstances in her life. It's a very realistic and believable portrayal of the loss of happiness. When Bo Bo eventually starts acting irrational I really needed to focus on the further development of the character. Because from this point things could've gotten been way over the top but Bo Bo's fate is not a totally unbelievable one. No one can map out how a hurt human being like her would react or do to herself. It becomes almost painful to watch as Daniel adds more tension through sound and the character can't show her best side of motherhood when needed. Again, it's a very believable performance and even if Anita lost to Sandra Ng in the Best Actress category, it's still award winning stuff. Alex Fong impressed me in Portland Street Blues with his very silent way of acting out his character. He did very much with the eyes and that is even more apparent in Till Death Do Us Part. Francis Ng also has a supporting part as Bo Bo's solicitor and the writing even allows his character to be more fleshed out as far as these characters go.
Till Death Do Us Part is probably too depressing for some viewers or they will only watch it once because of that. I'm however one of those viewers that need to balance both the positive and the negative atmosphere movies can offer. Daniel Lee's film is very well-made, powerful and most importantly it shows that he's not just the director behind Black Mask.
Universe's dvd presentation is either excellent or a little flawed. The 1.85:1 print is very clean but has a slight softness and darkness to it. Especially the latter almost dominate a few scenes. It could be very intentional though, you be the judge.
The Cantonese 5.1 Dolby Digital track functions really well. There's much talk but some sound effects and tension filled scenes use the front stage in a very good way. Surrounds are used for stuff like rain but sometimes feels mixed a bit to high. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.
The English subtitles were generally pretty excellent. Just a few minor errors occurred but sadly they were placed partially on the black lower bar, which makes us widescreen owners very angry (can't zoom in fully). Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
The usual Universe extras turn up on this dvd as well. The Star's Files for actors Anita Yuen, Alex Fong, Francis Ng and producer Derek Yee provide very basic info and filmographies and we also get the theatrical trailer for Till Death Do Us Part and Anna Magdalena.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson