Healing Hearts (2000)

Written & directed by: Gary Tang
Producer: Jessinta Lui
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Michelle Reis, Kenny Bee, Jacky Lui, Esther Kwan & Stephen Fung

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Lawrence (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai from In The Mood For Love) is a skilled surgeon who is still mourning the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a hit and run driver. His best friend and colleague Paul (Kenny Bee from Happy Family) is at the same time watching over beautiful Jackie (Michelle Reis from Fong Sai Yuk) and hopes that once she wakes up his feeling for her will be answered back. It's Lawrence though that, when trying to avoid his superiors, wakes Jackie out of her coma. After this Jackie gets support from Lawrence and even moves in with him while she looks for her own place. She also sees her chance to maybe straighten out his life a bit and after a while the two develops feelings for each other...

Director and writer Gary Tang have constructed a very cliché ridden drama with obvious nods to shows like ER and Chicago Hope but what I didn't know before I sat down to watch Healing Hearts was that it basically is a pilot movie for the TV series that followed. That fact actually drags the movie down in parts. The main problem is that too much is going on at the same time and reportedly several unfinished plot elements were continued in the TV series. It probably was a conscious choice to leave certain things open but in my opinion Gary should've focused only on a select few or even only the two main characters. Instead a whole slew of side characters comes and goes without much logic or meaning to us and most of these plot element are never expanded on. So actors like Melvin Wong, Esther Kwan and Stephen Fung basically makes quick cameos and that makes more or less 1/4 of the movie completely useless for us who will never get a chance to watch the TV series. Also in the beginning of Healing Hearts I got a feeling that the movie had been going on for about 20 minutes already since we are almost in the story from minute one. The director should've let the movie be it's own episode and finished up things more properly.

Gary's direction is a little stiff but I have a feeling he may have a background in TV so that trait is not surprising coming from the small screen. That fact doesn't make the direction sub standard though. If a small love story is told in a movie I want to see and notice what the characters are doing, not the director. That's exactly what Gary does, he places the camera in a simple way and rarely moves around too much during the dialogue scenes for example. His script is a pure cliché-city and focuses on the obvious things like the doctor's everyday relationship to their patients and also their troubled lives outside of the hospital environment. He still manages to strike a weird balance between handling the clichés in a painfully bad way and in other moments, thanks to some fine acting, make well known material affects us more than we expect The latter aspect demands that the dialogue therefore is more interestingly written and performed. That happens when Gary chooses to focus all his energy into the love story between Lawrence and Jackie and it's in their scenes that the script delivers some both sweet and clever dialogue. It's not only the actors who makes average writing look and sound better but a very tender and sometimes humerous tone is present in there. The two characters are familiar ones from movies but they're made so much more interesting thanks to Tony and Michelle's acting.

If you ask someone to put together top 5 Hong Kong actor's list, I'll bet Tony Leung Chiu-Wai most definitely would be on it (he would probably end up being number 3 on mine). The man has the charisma and presence that very few Hong Kong actors are blessed with and he really does justice to the role of Lawrence. I'm sure that several actors could have pulled this role off in a good enough way but in the hands of Tony the character becomes as real as can be. He can say so much with his eyes and he never has to resort to tears or big emotional outbursts to convey the emotions inside of him. Lawrence is a bit of a quiet character but if we as an audience wants to get to know him, we will understand him and the things going on in his life.

By his side through large parts of the film we find one of many gorgeous looking Hong Kong actresses that have put in good performances lately. This time I'm talking about Michelle Reis who I've only seen with Jet Li in Fong Sai Yuk before. That was not an ideal film to judge acting performances so a lot of people probably don't strongly remember her from that film. When she first comes out of her coma Michelle plays Jackie in a slightly annoying way and I got worried that if it had gone on like that even this part of the movie would've been dead. It is when the relationship with Tony's character finds it's best flow that also Michelle pushes the charm button. With him Michelle finds a balance between a slight impulsiveness and a tenderness that needs to be there for the entire role to work. She has an infectious sense of humour and she brings both a nice smile to everyone's lips but also the latter part of the movie Michelle does quite well in the more sentimental scenes. Pleasantly surprising performance I have to say.

You can predict where things are headed with these two characters but if you have the right actors clichés stops being clichés and you just enjoy the chemistry between either the fictional people or the actor's playing them. It should be said that their story is nothing that will rival the greatness of Juliet In Love for example and one or two plot devices surrounding Lawrence and Jackie are again not fully finished and dealt with in my opinion. Among other actors I really liked the character of Paul played by Kenny Bee. While he doesn't rival Tony Leung he nicely brings forth some interesting traits of Paul's. He surprisingly doesn't protest against Lawrence and Jackie's growing friendship but instead he is basically only concerned for her health. It's nothing revolutionary but it's nice too see a character like that done a bit differently in a romantic story like this.

If you forget about the TV series and just focused on Healing Hearts as a movie, it would have trouble finding it's place on the cinema market. We're constantly bombarded with both dramas and comedies of this type but if you take a chance on this you'll find a fairly sweet romantic tale but with some huge weaknesses outside the focus of that. You'll feel that you have seen this movie before but that's not always a negative thing.

The DVD:

Deltamac's dvd release is a very acceptable one as far as Hong Kong releases go. The aspect ratio of 1.85.1 is preserved here and the transfer looks very good throughout. The only obvious faults I could find were some softness in a few scenes plus some slight print damage.

Surprisingly the sync sound Cantonese track is in mono but it's a good presentation anyway. It's mostly dialogue and at times some overused piano music that is heard and it's all mixed in a satisfying way. A much lower mixed Mandarin mono dub is also included.

The English subtitles are excellent throughout except snippets of dialogue are missing here and there and are replaced with a subtitle saying NAME? instead. We don't miss out on any plot though. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also selectable.

The only extra found in the Chinese only menu is the trailer for Healing Hearts.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson