Angel Heart (1995)

Written & directed by: Fu Lee
Producer: Hsu Pei-Rong
Starring: Vivian Hsu, Franco Jiang, Ku Pao-Ming & Chow Yu-Hou

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Having spent a harrowing time in prison, Miao Wei (Franco Jiang) looks up both former, casual lovers but also his childhood sweetheart Wennie (Vivian Hsu). It's not long until they're married and off on a perfect path together but Miao Wei takes scars from his prison time into his intimate moments with Wennie. Claiming he loves her too much, the relationship begins falling apart in dangerous ways...

Having seen a fully clothed Vivian Hsu do commendable work in 2005's The Shoe Fairy, one is tempted to see what she did when working with raunchy material. Obviously not able to be confused with the classic Mickey Rourke movie of the same name, this Taiwan shot Category III drama contains genre intentions. It can still only get you cheap, amateurish places regardless of numerous "noble intentions" (how Love In Sampan earned recommendations elsewhere is a mystery to me) and certainly you won't be able to escape the smut label. Fu Lee does his very best though and to a certain extent pulls off something worthwhile with Angel Heart.

He knows selling points so early on Vivian's are revealed, within stylistic character setups, as well as signs of a narrative leaning towards the dark side. Prison degradation for Miao Wei's character manifests itself early, little love triangles, jealousy and rebellion, wrapped in a package not exactly screaming class. When all's said and done though, Angel Heart does deserve the grade of a minor drama or a class showcase of subtle soap opera drama. What does this tell anyone? What it tells me is that Fu Lee has put together in many aspects a rough and sloppy package. His desires are huge so he initially rushes through the puppy love leading up to marriage for Wenny and Miao Wei's characters. With this kind of pace, you wonder where 100 minutes will be spent. Before you all at once scream "IN THE BEDROOM", the fact remains that the Category III rating is less of a label for Angel Heart as the softcore sex scenes are shot relatively well in tune with the character-drama, despite them characters bonking like rabbits from time to time.

Fu Lee does possess a little bit more skill and desire than that and the jam packed narrative actually grows stronger in confidence. At times dialogue is suitable sparse and low-key, despite the content setting itself up as sappy and the developing main theme of deep affection is examined in a fairly thorough and haunting way. It's not necessarily compelling to watch but Fu keeps viewer interest in the constant shifts in both our main characters. Shifts that mean they're both flirting with madness and also the tangent of trying to find your type of self dependency becomes interesting occasionally. The outbursts are kept low and especially the middle section becomes even more separated from the Cat III label of Angel Heart. We're even watching valid cinema for some stretches of time.

But going back to sloppy, sometimes Fu Lee doesn't always string together his narrative logically or even well and that blame can't necessarily be put on the budget. In this regard, the affecting nature of Angel Heart takes a little dive under rough filmmaking, not being able to use rough to its advantage. Still, there's an expectedly large amount to be admired about a film upped to the III rating, featuring softcore sex but manages to explore fragile character's descent. Vivian Hsu is to be thanked a lot for this as she brings a real aura to Wennie. So we congratulate Fu Lee, Angel Heart graduates the class of making above average smut.

The DVD:

Wing Artist Entertainment presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.72:1 approximately. Print has very little damage and decent colours. However it still leans towards somewhat muted and sharpness halts at medium. Just a little bit better than a Widesight dvd basically.

Both audio tracks in Mandarin and Cantonese are post-dubbed but the former is the intended dialect for the film. The MPEG 1 channel audio sounds relatively clear and free from distractions.

Being a cinema print, we only get permanent Chinese/English subtitles. Riddled with poor spelling and grammar, it's still easy to follow the film. No extras are included, only a scene selection menu but those worrying about which audio track to choose, I can say my disc defaulted to track 1 which is the Mandarin selection.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson