Sealed With A Kiss (1999)

Directed by: Derek Chiu
Written by: Hui Hon
Producer: Johnnie To
Starring: Louis Koo, Yoyo Mung, Raymond Wong & Sue Au

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Sealed With A Kiss could be seen as part of Derek Chiu's steps into the big league, working for Johnnie To's Milkyway. Well, they aren't the mothers of commercialism but it means something to have Johnnie To as a producer and his production house's stamp on the picture. This collaboration continued on Derek Chiu's Comeuppance the year after. Sealed With A Kiss represents a genre of movies Hong Kong cinema does well but far too many of. After all is said and done, Derek's film isn't one too many.

Kam Shui (Louis Koo from Bullets Over Summer) is a mute resident in a small island community. He helps out at his aunt's inn and it's there he meets Mandy (Yoyo Mung from Running Out Of Time). She checks in for one night but despite that small stay she has firmly placed herself in Kam Shui's heart. When she later returns for a longer stay the two becomes closer to each other. Mandy, who is now heartbroken, doesn't flat out show the same affection and subsequently falls for shy fire fighter Paul (Raymond Wong from Lifeline). Kam Shui realizes that, how painful it may be, he would rather see her happy than anything else...

This is the earliest of the Derek Chiu efforts I've seen I have to admit that it impressed me the least, even if strengths are very apparent. Derek is developing but is showing signs of the smartness seen later but Sealed With A Kiss didn't manage to affect me as much as Comeuppance and Love Au Zen did. There really isn't anything, in this romance, to complain about though.

I've mentioned this in my earlier Derek Chiu reviews but what he's doing is incredibly difficult to write about. This is a drama, a simple one where subtlety is on display but not hard to pick up on. Having a plot about a mute man in love isn't the reason for the unspoken deep feelings found in Sealed With A Kiss. The script by Hui Hon makes a point that the price of letting your feelings stay on the inside can be big, regardless if you can speak or not. Mandy and Kam Shui seem very different but connect on a level where chemistry is what counts, not actual words. I mention different because she comes off as being at a very different level at first. By spending a longer amount of time on the island she lowers herself back to a level where she becomes simple, a young girl almost. When that happens Kam Shui and Mandy should be destined to be and what we get in the end are expected and unexpected answers. Acceptable or unacceptable is what each viewer has to decide.

Story, content, music, cinematography and many other elements of filmmaking are rarely bad in a Derek Chiu directed film but describing them in words make it seem like so many other movies. His way of directing isn't comparable to anyone I can think of but you could line him up alongside other talents such as Wilson Yip and Riley Yip (or even Johnnie To). However all of them are different and the only common denominator are the genres they've worked in. The drama genre, as you know, is a big playground of ideas so even if this is a romantic drama I challenge you to compare it to the greats of the genre (although this doesn't reach the classic status).

You can describe Chiu's movies as off, meaning that they have interesting takes on scenes as well as originality. To achieve that you need, on a regular basis, produce work with scenes like this or neat visual touches. Comeuppance had this and we find it in Sealed With A Kiss as well. It's not right to disclose the great moments but one thing I would describe as off in a positive way is the piano score heard in different scenes. In between that we also hear Brian Hyland's 60s song Sealed With A Kiss that has lyrics very much connected to the events and people in this story. Originality doesn't mean quality in all cases but most of what we see is proof of a director in development. Comeuppance would then by the project where Derek really let loose. One should not forget the contribution by screenwriter Hui Hon. He may have written these touches but images can't be created on paper, therefore it's great to have a visual director like Derek on a project.

Someone Derek brings along to a project as much as he can is DP Tony Cheung. To date he has shot 6 of Derek's features including his latest Frugal Game. What looks like existing village locations is still expertly lensed by Tony. The characters are real in our eyes and having them shot in a real environment enhances that. Then there's the two leads that we get a look at throughout most of the film.

Louis Koo have challenged himself by working with directors like Wilson Yip before and if his ambitions is to make his mark as a character actor, Sealed With A Kiss is a good start. Playing mute does still require a lot from you, especially two things. One, you're relying on your presence to reach the audiences with the nonverbal emotions and secondly, Louis has to use sign language for quite a few scenes. Once we're accustomed to the boyish character Louis finds a good flow in both departments and his role as Kam Shui ranks as one of his best. Yoyyo Mung works well with Koo and handles her development nicely. By design she's a little loudmouthed and full of energy but calms down as we move along. Even though her character can speak there are scenes with little dialogue but much being said and she rises to that task as well.

Sealed With A Kiss is kind of sad and it's a Derek Chiu movie so we'll see plenty of visual and narrative tricks. Both those would become and have become more developed but as far as romantic dramas go, this is still recommended viewing.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the movie in it's 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Decent sharpness and colours but a little too much print damage for such a recent movie drags it down a little. On par with most Mei Ah transfers I would say.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds a little rough in dialogue and music but overall works well drawing the viewer in. A Cantonese 2.0 track plus the same options in Mandarin can also be selected. Regarding the audio, there appears to be a fault regarding a music cue. From Asian DVD Guide:

In the scene where Mandy gets all playful in her room and lights the sparklers, the original music was a soft instrumental. On the 5.1 and 2.0 Cantonese tracks on the DVD, the music has been changed to the "Sealed with a Kiss" song. It's loud, jarring, and overkill for the theme song. The original music selections remain on the Mandarin 2.0 track on the DVD and on both tracks on the VCD.

The English subtitles are optional and presented no problems as far as I could notice. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras are the usual useless Data Bank (with synopsis and a cast & crew listing) plus trailers for Sealed With A Kiss and Running Out Of Time.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson