Lavender (2000)

Written & directed by: Riley Yip
Producer: Claudie Chung
Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Kelly Chen & Eason Chan

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2000:
Best Supporting Actor (Eason Chan)
Best Cinematography (Kwan Pun-Leung)
Best Art Direction (Hai Cheung Man, Poon Chi-Wai & Wong Bing-Yiu)
Best Costume Design (Dora Ng)
Best Original Film Score (Ronald Ng)
Best Original Film Song: Fun yi cho (Lavender)
Music: Ronald Ng
Lam Jik
Performed by:
Kelly Chen

I realize that director Riley Yip should not be expected to follow up Metade Fumaca with another masterpiece. But is his 2000 effort Lavender anywhere close to that film and the strength Riley displayed in it?

Athena (Kelly Chen) is lonely and depressed. Her life is empty and she is desperately longing for someone she loved dearly that is now gone. The days and nights come and go without much surprises until one night when an angel crashes into her apartment terrace. He explains to her that he can't return to heaven until the Holy Door is opened plus he must gather love to be able to fly again. After a while he seems to easily get what he wants but he sees that Athena is missing something. He decides to try and help her...

One should not compare Metade Fumaca and Lavender because that would be unfair to Riley and secondly it's not a sequel. They do share some similarities when it comes to their respective running themes though. Metade Fumaca was about holding on to your memories while this movie talks about letting go off them and moving forward in life. What's good with Riley's writing and direction is that it doesn't truly spell out the meanings for us so we must invest some time in the film to grasp the whole. Lavender is more of a drama but Riley also makes comedy a well integrated aspect. Drama and comedy aren't elements that can't be mixed but the combination doesn't always succeed. Riley doesn't however join the gang of directors who mix and mash however they want and care less about the end result. By injecting the humour with human touches he nicely ties and connects it with the drama without it feeling out of place.

The sentimental and dramatic aspects does take over more and more as we along and from what I read people think Lavender is too sentimental. I can only speak for me personally when I say that I think our director kept it pretty mellow and soothing up to a certain point LATER in the film. When there is emotions projected on screen I think it's suits the story and knowing the characters, we're also affected by this. There lies a pretty odd mood over some scenes with drama that also has to do with the music choices.

Composer Ronald Ng has put together a pretty big and varied score that for example consists of angelic choirs, which is of course suiting for a movie like this. Having listened to Metade Fumaca and now this, I'm convinced Riley involves himself greatly in the scoring process. In his previous film there was a lot of diverse music heard which at times felt a bit overused. Same statement is also true for Lavender that has a great variety of tracks that will pull you in all kind of different directions. It is fun and refreshing that such a wild mix of music from all around the globe finds it's way into Hong Kong movies and in Riley's special movies especially. What about that odd mood I was talking about then? In some silent but dramatic character moments Riley totally goes against convention and uses an almost wild and big emotional score that many would argue should be in a big emotional scene instead. This caught me off guard but I can't say I disliked it, it's a choice that makes Riley's movie even more noteworthy. Lavender is not perfect pace wise though. Things just seem to go nowhere for a little while and therefore the movie drags. This is repaired pretty quickly though and up until the end no problems are really evident.

In my opinion, Riley shares one specific thing with two of Hong Kong's other really cool and great directors, Wilson Yip and Derek Chiu. That is the ability to come up with small genius touches to their narrative structures and to tell a story in an alternate way than people are used to. With Lavender, Riley's skill is most prominent during the movies first 5 minutes (including a pretty short credits sequence). We follow Athena during a normal and eventless day in her life and without a single line of dialogue being spoken, almost her whole character is set up for us. All Riley does is show some simple and beautiful moments and we know what we need to know about Athena. This must be a sign of a director having a high confidence level but also knowing his material so well that he can execute it like this. He doesn't have to play with the camera either to tell the story. It seems sufficient that he just places the camera and does everything in the frame, not with the frame. Riley also seems to love small jumps ahead in time through editing and uses that to create some of the comedy. Cinematographer Kwan Pun Leung deserves a mention also. Most of the time this is not a big visual film but there are a select few scenes that rely heavily on the ability of the DP from a visual standpoint. It's hard to describe so I'd rather advice you to see for yourself.

Lavender can be seen as a small reunion for the crew of the movie Anna Magdalena. The director of that film, Hai Cheung Man, worked as an art director on this film and two of his main actors star in Riley's film Those two are Kelly Chen and Takeshi Kaneshiro. I did have my complaints regarding Kelly's acting in Anna Magdalena. I didn't think she pulled off the character fully but since then she looks more sure of herself and confident in her acting. It doesn't hurt that she's backed up by a director who managed to bring to the screen, Nic Tse's best acting role to date. Even if it's a pretty simple journey Kelly's character goes through, there's still some complex scenes that need to be performed carefully. Kelly rises to that task and I hope to see Riley use her in the future.

Takeshi Kaneshiro continues to impress in these drama roles and in Lavender we see him display his curious and playful side as opposed to the shy guy he played in Anna Magdalena. Angel knows what life in heaven is like but earth is very much different. He's actually a bit deceived and corrupted at first and gets the wrong impression about the love he needs. But when his focus is more on Athena he starts to realize what is correct and manages to figure out what's he's really looking for. It's a very sympathetic aura around Angel and Takeshi really plays this like it should, neither over the top or too understated. Eason Chan (from Visible Secret) plays Athena's gay neighbor and ever so slightly he's also starting to grow as an actor. A surprising performance from him.

What Riley Yip proves with Lavender is that he's an asset to Hong Kong cinema. Dramas certainly isn't the most commercial genre there is but I'm hoping Riley can do wonders in a variety of genres in the future. I'm not saying he's a saviour of Hong Kong cinema but if his output becomes better and better, then we're in for a treat.

The DVD:

The 1.85:1 transfer from Universe has no visible print damage whatsoever and remains colourful and detailed throughout. Not quite on par with their disc of Riley's previous film but it still very good.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese track uses the surrounds only for the occasional effect and music. The front is where the action is at! It's filled with the different music passages and sounds quite wonderful all the way. It's a tad aggressive in parts but not distracting as such. A 5.1 Mandarin track is also included.

The English subtitles had two or three errors but were very understandable throughout. Universe does sometime disappoint in this area but when they're good, they're good! Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras consist of bland Star's Files for actors Takeshi Kaneshiro and Kelly Chen plus trailers for this movie, Skyline Cruisers, Marooned and Summer Holiday.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

Thanks to God Of Cookery for providing the composer and writer credits of the Lavender song.