Full Moon In New York (1989)

Directed by: Stanley Kwan
Written by: Yan Tai On Ping & Zhong Acheng
Producer: Henry Fong
Starring: Sylvia Chang, Maggie Cheung, Siqin Gaowa, Josephine Koo, Richard Hsiung & Oh Yat-Jing

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Awards at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 1989:
Best Picture
Best Actress (Maggie Cheung)

Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 1989:
Best Director (Stanley Kwan)
Best Actress (Sylvia Chang)

Stanley Kwan's New York drama requires you to sit down, shut up and listen. If you're not fine with that then you shouldn't probably have picked up this film. On the other hand, the crowd who lined up for this one definitely knew what they were after. After all, Full Moon In New York comes from Stanley Kwan of Rouge fame. For Full Moon In New York, it isn't so much about an enchanting atmosphere but simply about listening and taking in the subtleties. You know already if you're the crowd for that sort of thing.

Taiwanese native Wang Hsiung Ping (Sylvia Chang) is a struggling actress, moving swiftly between auditions and men without managing to stand on solid ground. Li Feng Jiao (Maggie Cheung) from Hong Kong, a careerwoman who juggles both being a restaurant owner, real estate agent and mentally dealing with her homosexuality. Zhao Hong (Siqin Gaowa) has just married Thomas, an American Born Chinese, and is trying to adjust to her new American lifestyle. She's missing only thing piece to her puzzle. Her mother back in China....

In a slight way, Full Moon In New York predates the Sylvia Chang directed 20 30 40 as it definitely echoes the same template but so many years later after being directed herself, Sylvia didn't xerox Kwan's vision. It's certainly not an original template in any case, even way back in 1989. Stanley Kwan has been given the blueprint by Yan Tai On Ping and Zhong Acheng to tell a story of different Asian women out of their element. It's about confusion and detachment, be it sexual or cultural but ultimately is talks about one very important thing; the celebration of and need to hold on to your roots. Within the Bill Wong lensed New York locations, the character of Zhao Wong is the one that is the most out of tune with her new environment. Having married an American born Chinese, the adjustment hasn't been good to her and really her biggest lifeline, her mother who has suffered a lot at the hands of Chinese history, is what's needed for her to be balanced. Circumstances and unsaid laid down rules seems to point towards the fact that she'll never achieve happiness as a Chinese woman, only an American one. Wang Hsiung Ping and Li Feng Jiao are the veterans of the city, well-adjusted New Yorkers but that's a surface illusion. Inside, they're as confused, alone and afraid that they've lost their ways. Unification is strongly emphasized throughout the film although revelations along the way creates a downbeat flip-flop between character's roots that becomes a mental frustration for Zhao Wong and Wang in particular.

Stanley Kwan is dependable and knows his direction but initially does say that I'm not going to start all over in my portrayal of these characters. He instead calmly, yet loudly throws us right smack in the middle of these women's lives but at crucial points. Therefore he has already challenged himself to hook character-drama enthusiasts into the piece as we move along and despite a relatively short running time, considering the material, Full Moon In New York offers plenty of worthwhile subtext eventually.

Compared to Rouge, Kwan's direction is more along the lines of point and shoot even though Bill Wong's cinematography certainly is well planned out. If you want any flashier direction, go elsewhere! Kwan's only big stylistic boom's comes via music passages where he does help out in telling that we're now experiencing something important but it's not condescending the intended audience. As Full Moon In New York rolls along, expected narrative turns crop up but usually we're very much immersed into the friendship of Zhao, Wang and Li. They're not so much helping out each other thoroughly but their meeting are catalysts for their rediscoveries. Something which is a sharp point made by writers Yan Tai On Ping & Zhong Acheng.

Truth of the matter is, I see flaws in Kwan's storytelling yet he's so darn good at adding weight despite. I'm really referring to the beginning once more where everyone knows everyone except us but also his slight touching upon the past history between the people in the film. Instead of telling life stories back to back, Kwan instead relies on the subtle writing and brings out the same with the actors. The result is the needed weight for either the running time or the moment. Best example being the fling Li has with Josephine Koo's character. Normally, this wouldn't be sufficient but in the hands of Kwan, he makes scattered and slight portrayals big. As a sidenote, Koo's role is very similar to the dynamics of her character in A Fishy Story that also stars Maggie Cheung.

It's an ensemble piece as well with very much terrific and layered performances by Sylvia Chang and Maggie Cheung but my vote goes to Siqin Gaowa who so perfectly embodies the shyness, awkwardness and longing that Zhao Wong constantly goes through. Where was her nomination?!

If you want to be swept away by Full Moon In New York, you can but bear in mind that this is a different beast than Rouge. Stanley Kwan goes even more low-key and the end results are probably underwhelming for most viewers. However for those seeking out genre stuff like this, you will be rewarded. It's all told very quietly while Kwan still heavily emphasizes the importance of unification and never losing touch with who you really are. Not just between the Chinese but for all Asian people. Full Moon In New York is not a homerun but the content is supersolid.

The DVD:

Mei Ah's 1.60:1 framed presentation is what it is. The print is fairly clean (aside from some vertical lines that appear on the print at times) but it also exhibits a dark, grainy and murky nature that doesn't register particularly well. Bill Wong's cold tones in the cinematography feels correctly presented somewhat though.

The mixed language track in Dolby Digital 2.0 (containing Cantonese, Mandarin and English) sounds very rough and volume levels seems to vary throughout the film. There are two audio tracks to select but the second channel holds only silence.

The English subtitles are well written however but comes with the annoying flaw that hardly any spoken English dialogue is matched word by word in the translation. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extras are trailers for Full Moon In New York, Ghost Lantern and The Bride With White Hair 2.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson