City Of Glass (1998)

Directed by: Mabel Cheung
Written by: Mabel Cheung & Alex Law
Producer: Alex Law
Starring: Leon Lai, Shu Qi, Nicola Cheung, Daniel Wu, Elaine Kam, Eason Chan & Vincent Kok

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Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:
Best Original Film Song: Gum sang but joi (City Of Glass)
Music: Dick Lee
Lyrics: Lam Jik
Performed by: Leon Lai

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:
Best Picture
Best Director (Mabel Cheung)
Best Screenplay (Mabel Cheung & Alex Law)
Best Actor (Leon Lai)
Best Actress (Shu Qi)
Best New Artist (Daniel Wu)
Best Cinematography (Jingle Ma)
Best Art Direction (Yu Ka-On)
Best Sound Effects
Best Original Film Score (Dick Lee & Chiu Tsang-Hei)

Awards at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 1998:
Best Screenplay (Mabel Cheung & Alex Law)
Best Cinematography (Jingle Ma)

On New Year's Eve 1997 in London, Hong Kong natives Raphael (Leon Lai) and Vivian (Shu Qi) die at the stroke of midnight in a car accident. They leave behind grown up children from other relationships, namely Daniel (Daniel Wu) and Suzie (Nicola Cheung), who now share the responsibility of bringing back the remains to Hong Kong. Dealing with the aftermath of Raphael and Vivian's life brings the reluctant two together while we in flashbacks experience the long lasting story of the parents, starting in the 1960s...

Coming from the duo that brought us An Autumn's Tale and Painted Faces, it's certainly not unfair to expect the bar to be set high when approaching City Of Glass. However, despite excellent music, cinematography and correct subtle flavors, Mabel Cheung and Alex Law has created somewhat of an emotionally empty romance.

Comparisons to Comrades, Almost A Love Story and the recent Leaving Me Loving You (both of which star Leon Lai) are unavoidable as the narrative is epic, visuals constantly elegant (Jingle Ma employs his trademark angelic, soft light to many scenes) and Cheung lets us know that the desire is to go places with this genre entry. City Of Glass therefore doesn't fail to technically rank high but problems arise in the actual core storytelling. Alex Law's script wants to be epic and places the events in real life timelines (mainly political) to achieve greater arcs and scale but the problem is, elements are merely featured and frankly doesn't really matter for the on and off romance between Raphael and Vivian.

This approach was nailed in Comrades, Almost A Love Story but Cheung and Law rarely manages to connect with their audiences. Never overbearing, never too subtle, the instincts on display are still absolutely nigh on perfect and it gets increasingly frustrating to figure what the flaws actually are. In the end, I also found myself drawing comparisons to Cheung's 80s classic An Autumn's Tale that, while less grand visually and in scale, had performers that could greatly elevate the sincere, heartfelt and simple aspects of the good old fashioned romance.

Leon Lai and Shu Qi are definitely likeable also and looks good together but, and it's unfair to compare, but they are no Chow Yun-Fat/Cherie Chung pairing despite all the odds being in their favour. Cheung achieves sporadic movie magic with subtle emotions but we're also not that thrilled about their long, ongoing sporadic relationship, despite the Jingle Ma's cinematography and Dick Lee's music trying to convince us otherwise. For their counterpart in the present day, the next generation, Cheung definitely faces problems as well.

Two not so seasoned performers in the form of Daniel Wu (alternating between Chinese and English but due to a purpose in the script at least) and Nicola Cheung turns City Of Glass briefly into a loud romantic comedy that annoys before Mabel Cheung late finds a subtle act that her young actors are in tune with. Their moments together actually become more favorable over Leon Lai and Shu Qi's story for a while and the movie finally go out on a more emotional high. It's not enough to save the disappointing, attractive end product however.

Talking Leon Lai and Shu Qi again, the former has had quite fair comparisons made with Keanu Reeves as they both are the epitome of wooden most of the time. Lai did prove with Comrades, Three: Going Home and now with City Of Glass that that negative trait can be defeated. Rarely expressive as such but Lai does shine in a minor way for some of the quieter, telling moments. However, Lai still does flip back and forth in his acting in general so it's only sporadically we see him do well. Shu Qi was at this time on a definite high, having gained numerous awards and nominations for her work. She brings the trademark, bubbly and lovely presence to her younger side of the character while also transforming suitably to the adult Vivian with the hidden longing emotions underneath. She probably is the performer that works best throughout but most of the time, she also works alone and that is a tough job. Elaine Kam, Vincent Kok and Eason Chan provides support.

Mabel Cheung's City Of Glass thoroughly succeeds in weaving magic on a visual and audio level but disappointingly only churns out a fairly watchable romance that rarely finds its way into the heart of the viewer. No fault of the content beforehand and while blame is a harsh word to use, the casting and an uninteresting main core of the script hinders Cheung and Alex Law's grander intentions.

The DVD:

Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1 approximately. Print used is clean and while slightly murky sometimes, it carries sharp and colourful attributes as well.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track (also featuring sections in English and Mandarin) sounds wonderful throughout, utilizing all speakers for score to an immersing effect while dialogue also sounds clear. Instances of poor rear channel effects and dialogue drowned in the music do occur but are over quick. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles feature few errors and presents a well-written translation. All English spoken dialogue appear in the subtitles. Traditional and simplified Chinese options are also available.

Star's Files for Leon Lai, Shu Qi, Nicola Cheung, Mabel Cheung, Raymond Chow and Alex Law are on offer in terms of extras. Short on in depth info outside of the selection for Raymond Chow and Alex Law, faults turn up in Leon Lai's file that claim he starred in A Fishy Story while Nicola Cheung's bio talks more about her personality than her short movie career. Universe have definitely done worse when it comes to this extra though. The theatrical trailer is also included.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson