Directed by: Stanley Kwan
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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1986:
Bao-Er (Cora Miao) initiates the plans to divorce from her husband Derek (Chow Yun-Fat). With a kid in the middle but no happiness, both go on their separate paths. Derek continues his affair with wildflower Sha-Niu (Cherie Chung) while Bao-Er enjoys her newly found freedom in the company of equally free female friends. But what's freedom and don't we all feel a need to belong with somebody?
Literally bearing an English title that symbolizes a theme acclaimed director Stanley Kwan (Rouge, Red Rose White Rose) has carried with him pretty much up till the point where he came out as an openly gay filmmaker (1*), he initially got into the TVB system, landing assistant directing gigs alongside some of the greats that would become part of what others but themselves labeled as the new wave (of the late 70s-early 80s that is). Continuing work with the likes of Ann Hui and Patrick Tam therefore then when making the transitions to feature films (2*), along the way you also tie connections to actors appreciating your work and at a height of popularity for some of them, Kwan managed to gather up a splendid gang of cast and talented crew (3*) for his multi-nominated feature debut Women. Taking on a simple yet very busy emotional rollercoaster ride of emotions, Kwan isn't anxious out of the gate but skillful in his conveying and the bar is set high with his first outing.
Possibly drawing inspiration from working with the likes of Ann Hui (plus leads Cora Miao and Chow Yun-Fat), I've no document on whether or not the young Kwan was molded by his peers. But his debut at Shaw Brother's certainly comes packaged with a filmmaker feeling supported and infusing a very talky narrative with depth. Quite blessed to also be working with veteran writer Yau Daai-On Ping (who would write 4 additional features for Kwan), the template isn't solely about the titular women but is the quite elaborate examination of the often times very complex emotional nature between the sexes, even if we're mostly dealing with two characters only.
Throwing us head first into the story that spells out divorce before any main credits have played, through the writing we encounter the word "freedom" in many incarnations and it remains a center pillar throughout Women. Catching glimpses of the Single's Women's Club that advocates happiness or rather a limp attempt at it, many characters want love, want comfort and want life setup so that future remains secure (maybe not bright however). Freedom isn't therefore your ultimate choice but open for definition and mainly following Cora Miao's journey as a divorced woman, trying to hide her jealousy from cheating husband played by Chow Yun-Fat, Kwan gets a good amount of reality out of the story. You've got children at center, a very huge part of reasoning by characters, irrational or not. You have a past history where Bao-Er has apparently been very repressed in order to not break her female image and elements of lying to perfect marriages comes to light through a crucial dialogue between Bao-Er and her mom. Ignorance is bliss perhaps and the very open dialogue creates a busy thinking pad for the viewer. Depending on who you are, new or old fan of Kwan's work for instance, Women deserves to be thought of and about.
The fine aspect of Women is the continuing development of emotions that creates an uncertainty of the outcome. Whether it's about Bao-Er feeling she can achieve no independence without a man or THAT man, feeling jealous of the young and free in the form of Cherie Chung's Sha-Niu or rejecting a flirt by one of her female friends, mostly Bao-Er does come off as wanting the strength she has achieved through the separation. You get a more playful and more deceitful woman, sharing moments with her friends where they grade men right in front of their face or fabricating the idea that next door neighbour child Chang may in fact by a secret lover. Therefore Kwan transforms the writing into what then should've had the title "Men & Women" and final ideas put forth are as controversial as they are real.
Post-discussion is very possible in this rollercoaster and that discussion should be geared towards Cora Miao and Chow Yun-Fat's performances too. Cora especially utilizes her tom boy-ish image well for her transformation into A kind of woman, a socially acceptable woman trying to define freedom and while Chow breaks out very late, he blesses Kwan with a deciding presence that has its best moments late as it's an insecure, slightly darker soul Yun-Fat is asked to inhibit. A welcome choice, a welcome debut and a talkative drama at the end of the Shaw Brother's era that shouldn't have saved the company but it got in late to showcase signs of a filmmaker who would make men and woman a kind of specialty. Stories and themes are often old but Stanley Kwan showcased early on that you get a lot of mileage out of reality. This, subsequent and recent films won't change the fanbase for his films but seemingly and correctly, it should be that way for Kwan. Just like his leads in Women many times comes to the conclusion that they should be the way they are. Difference is, Kwan is not devious...
IVL presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.80:1 approximately, with anamorphic enhancement. The remastered print has what looks like a designed softness to it but remains clear and seemingly faithful. The old time Shaw Brother's logo has been cropped and crudely inserted before the movie.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track suffers from no apparent problems. A Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 selection is also available.
The English subtitles exhibits very few errors (mostly then concerning grammar) and flow very well otherwise. Traditional Chinese subtitles are also included.
Standard extras-package from IVL/Celestial turns up, starting with newly created trailers for Love In A Fallen City, Cherie, Hong Kong Hong Kong and Tragic Commitment. The new one for Women is thankfully accompanied by the original trailer as well. Movie Information-section contains 10 Movie Stills, an image of the original poster, production notes that as per usual holds the synopsis and finishing is Biography & Selected Filmography with basic bios of Cora Miao, Chow Yun-Fat, Cherie Chung and Stanley Kwan.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) Gay themed films followed, namely fine work on Hold You Tight and the guerilla shoot in Mainland China that became Lan Yu.
(2) He was employed on new wave classics such as Dennis Yu's The Beasts, Ann Hui's The Story Of Woo Viet and Patrick Tam's Nomad.
(3) Cinematographer Bill Wong carries with him a highly respectable body of work in that capacity, including on The Sword, Nomad, Shanghai Blues and Once Upon A Time In China. Art director Tony Au would employ Bill on Dream Lovers, Au's his very best film as director alongside A Roof With A View.