Hold You Tight (1998)

Produced & directed by: Stanley Kwan
Written by: Jimmy Ngai
Starring: Chingmy Yau, Sunny Chan, Eric Tsang, Oh Yu-Lun & Sandra Ng

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:
Best Director (Stanley Kwan)
Best Actress (Chingmy Yau)
Best Supporting Actor (Eric Tsang)
Best Cinematography (Kwan Bun-Leung)
Best Art Direction (Yu Ka-On)
Best Original Film Score (Yu Yat-Yiu & Leung Kei-Cheuk)

Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 1999:
Film Of Merit

Award at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 1998:
Best Supporting Actor (Eric Tsang)

Ah Moon (Chingmy Yau) and Fung Wai's (Sunny Chan - Comeuppance) move to a new apartment immediately reveals their unspoken struggles as a married couple as they are going through the motions. To fulfill her modest goal of feeling loved, Moon has an affair with Taiwanese lifeguard Jie (Oh Yu-Lun), only to shortly thereafter die in a plane crash. Jie continues to hang close to Fung Wai, watching him become friends with real estate agent Tong (Eric Tsang), a single gay man.

After quite a lengthy break from feature movies, 1998 marked a return for the reliable Stanley Kwan (Rouge, Center Stage). Hold You Tight represents an entering of a thematic that Kwan began exploring on a more regular basis during this time. Namely that concerning homosexuality as evident in this urban drama (and many years prior in Full Moon In New York), his subsequent film Lan Yu and The Accident (which he produced). That portrayal in any cinema usually leans towards overly broad or handled with a welcome sensibility. Since Wong Jing isn't anywhere near this film despite the starring role for Chingmy Yau, we expectedly are subjected to something more mature and substantial.

Stanley Kwan has always employed a naturalistic vision to the movies I've had the privilege to see even though efforts like Rouge certainly comes with an incredibly enchanting atmosphere. Rarely going overly complex beyond a simple or deep thematic or substantially arthouse, Kwan is the kind of filmmaker that simply plays his thoughts out, often distancing himself visually, to an immersing effect. His break doesn't represent a loss in skill and Hold You Tight easily impresses.

With a contrived setup during the opening airport scene where we see TWO Chingmy Yau's for the price of one, Kwan certainly finds a hook there and also rightly gets the level of homosexuality that's going to end up in this film out of the way pretty quickly. Not out to exploit but not out to shy away either, Jimmy Ngai's measured script soon gets to bloom as the theme of loneliness enters. We're all out in the open most of the time, never revealing how closed off we are and Kwan uses sexuality and sex for his central thought of simply wanting to be held.

Kwan is again not one to bury his messages into maximum arthouse sensibilities (outside the odd silly freeze frame and step-printing) but rather go a slight documentary route by just observing and following. One thing to definitely admire is his eye for the small details. Details about past relations, current state of mind, quickly captured in select frames and dialogue. No more is needed....outside of a razor sharp focus and eye for this aspect. A rare thing.

When entering into the extended flashback structure involving Ah Moon and Fung Wai, Kwan challenges us to patiently sit tight as he throws us into already established relationships and characters. He does know his audience (a limited one, at least box office-wise) and they are armed with a level of patience if the filmmakers hand out rewards in the long run. The Ah Moon and Fung Wai relationship builds up very well therefore as its one of those stuck in a rut acts where a huge poignancy lies in the fact that a desire to be held is the most crucial ingredient to keep your head always up in your world. An almost humorous and clichéd point enters through the character of Jie who Moon has an affair with as he is a lifeguard, albeit at a bath house, but in the end, Kwan has got something valid to say about all of his subjects.

Contrived as it may be (referring to the symbolism the doppelganger of Chingmy Yau represents) as we enter the final reel set mostly in Taiwan, Kwan gleefully lets it be and rightly doesn't worry about audiences tuning out. His thematic most importantly reaches a circle but even MORE importantly, he doesn't provide a final nail, a final answer. Kwan favors character realization and Hold You Tight becomes the better film for it.

Chingmy Yau bid her farewell to Hong Kong cinema with this film and while she gained acting nominations before (for Naked Killer, an unlikely candidate for awards), this is one that comes truly deserved. Having grown a little bit older and gained experience, she displays a maturity that fits very well under the guidance of Stanley Kwan. Having been groomed by Wong Jing for so many years, she finally showed the world that she was capable and ended on a definite high. Sunny Chan is not so much a seasoned performer but is one of those cases where someone like Kwan could find the right acting vein for him to fit naturally into a drama such as this. Eric Tsang will always be Eric Tsang but what makes this performance so special is due to what I talked about before about our different faces towards life. Within his home, Tsang's Tong can be more of the flamboyant gay man. Outside, more of the goofy guy but, through his friendship with Wai, a goofy guy with a huge heart. Tsang no doubt is up to the challenge and succeeds thoroughly.

Those familiar with Stanley Kwan knows to expect a measured pace, attention to detail, natural performances and to come armed with wee bit of patience as the ultimate meaning grows in its own pace. Those who are not knows if they even want to venture into this kind of vision after reading this last paragraph. Hold You Tight in the end becomes a poignant yet suitably simplistic look on the effects of loneliness, longing and how sexuality plays into that particular state of mind.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in a 1.68:1 aspect ratio approximately. Print has light wear and displays decent colours and sharpness.

The Cantonese (with sections in Mandarin) Dolby Digital 2.0 track features decent front channel separation for music but sounds a bit flat overall. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

The English subtitles has a few errors but presents a well-worded translation otherwise. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available. Sole extra is a 13 minute interview with actor Sunny Chan that has subtitled movie clips but none for the interview parts.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson