Fatal Love (1988)
Directed by: Leung Po-Chi
On his way to a party, fashion photography art director Chicken Wing (Leslie Cheung) engages in a romantic encounter with what he believes is a ghost. After spotting her from time to time in the city, he tracks her grave down. She is Cecilia (Cherie Chung) but this all turns out to be a smokescreen as she is alive but not so well, being the girlfriend of bachelor bad boy Sam (Melvin Wong). Wing has fallen head over heels for Cecilia though and the words imminent danger is quickly removed from his vocabulary, despite being beaten up by Sam's henchmen when trying to approach her. Cecilia is dying to break free from Sam's clutches also...
Uh-oh. Most likely what most general viewers and more initiated fans of Leung Po-Chi's work (Hong Kong 1941, The Island) is likely thinking when Fatal Love seemingly sets out to carbon copy the premise of A Chinese Ghost Story but set in modern times. There's no sign of creativity on producer Raymond Wong's behalf and the casting of Leslie Cheung therefore doesn't exactly inspire confidence in that regard. Well, it's all tricks played on us and the character of Chicken Wing but it's not like Leung Po-Chi AND associate director Benny Chan of A Moment Of Romance fame (1*) gives us a remarkable movie after goals have been settled on. God bless this era of Hong Kong cinema though where you could get screen kings and queens to keep your film afloat then!
Fatal Love actually seems to be opt for a very playful and atmospheric aura initially as we get several cool dips into style and looking at the credits, no less than 4 cinematographers were involved, including Peter Pau (2*). His creative stamp is definitely on the first reel which is really well combined with the filmmakers desire to bring a surprising direction to the film. Soon it turns quite slight and ordinary however despite the camera talent other than Pau. As this film is meant to be an all round effort, I reserve the right to complain that not much flesh is provided for a thoroughly meaty experience. Some detours into a decadent world of fashion is showcased and Leslie's Chicken Wing seems like a perverse inclusion within this world, even acting on giddy impulses after meeting Cecilia despite the danger of reeling in the girl of a deadly force. Still, you don't get to know much about the world and characters which you haven't already gathered from a dozen or so other Hong Kong films.
But the rest of this review will deservedly be devoted to a valid praise to this dark romance. We seem to lose the best of the DOP's a bit into the film but the focus on the rebellious romance between Wing and Cecilia means a total focus on stars Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung. That privilege, Leung/Chan utilizes with command and respect, playing out the scattered character depth well between the two. While predictable that Cecilia is in deep misery, a victim of how the negative turns in life sweeps you away, Cherie, who really had a limited time in the spotlight used to utmost effect, knows her presence may be enough of an requirement to sell the 90 minutes of character.
By god it works and the late Leslie has no problem following that flow, despite Wing being a bit of an asshole towards Ann Bridgewater's character. He relishes in, unconsciously maybe, to put aside any priorities he's devoted himself to in favour of wooing Cecilia and it's not really acceptable audience friendly character material on display. Deep thoughts should and does go to the wayside however as it's just pure enjoyment watching two of the best and brightest profiles Hong Kong cinema ever offered up sharing the screen. Melvin Wong offers up a suitably menacing turn as well but it's not up to the levels achieved in Righting Wrongs. Phillip Kwok manages to make an impression as well in a small role as a henchman with a conscience. Shades of Mad Dog...
For Leung Po-Chi fans, Fatal Love places itself amongst the lesser efforts, probably some way behind the likes of He Lives By Night even. It's quite evident at all times where the film is going next and probably where it's going to end up. If you want to squeeze freshness out of a story like this, you better be prepared to enter unexplored depths when dealing with a doomed romance of this kind then. This doesn't happen or simply can't due to the written material but kudos comes deserved since this is a very compelling vehicle for the stars. Leslie and Cherie during this time combined to give us the likes of A Better Tomorrow, Rouge, An Autumn's Tale and Peking Opera Blues and in fact, not a whole lot of shame lies in the final tally of Fatal Love. Expect less than usual however.
Typical budget release from Deltamac with mostly dull colours and average sharpness. The approximately 1.81.1 framed transfer is pretty clean however.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track presents dialogue and effects in a clear manner. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
The English subtitles contains the odd errors in grammar and spelling but overall are very comprehensible. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. The trailer is the only supplement.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) Attentive reader Michael Thomason has pointed out that Fatal Love is the second time Leung Po-Chi have worked for Cinema City under "windy" conditions if you will. On Esprit D’Amour, Leung was fired from the production and replaced by Ringo Lam who was in fact the assistant director. For Fatal Love, Benny Chan has the credit of associate director which in reality very much means he was mainly running the show while being supervised. In this case by Leung Po-Chi. Although this poor reviewer has a poor eye for this, Michael points out several instances where Benny Chan's style, in comparison to A Moment Of Romance that was not far off, is very evident.
(2) The team is also made up of Horace Wong, Poon Hang-Sang and Paul Chan. The two former both worked on Peking Opera Blues and A Chinese Ghost Story. Other credits between them includes The Island for Leung Po-Chi, Red Dust, Center Stage, The Killer, A Moment Of Romance and A Better Tomorrow III. Not your run of the mill DOP's.