By Daniel Luftspring
Lover’s Discourse is an Asian film written and directed by the dynamic duo of Kwok Cheung Sang and Chi-Man Wan. I had the pleasure of seeing this film on Tuesday, November 8th at the opening night gala of the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. Beyond a surprising turnout and a rousing performance by choir! choir! choir!, this film really did exceed my expectations. It wound through diverging stories, while playfully inquiring about the significant relationships that we as humans have all the time. It mostly zeroed in on the idea of infidelity and the madness that love can drive us to, but also the desire we have for ignorance once a relationship has become habitual.
My favourite story line (although it was poorly connected to the others) featured Gigi (Kay Tse), the operator of a laundromat who over the course of many business cycles had fallen desperately in love with a client who doesn’t even know her name. She acted out brilliantly many characteristics of the desparate and highlighted appropriately the idea that some of our greatest earthly affections often go unnoticed. She went from erecting shrines to him to witty asides where she would dream of conversing with a mannequin who resembled her unattainable love. The other storylines featured two couples whose significant others were cheating on each other. This culminated in an evening chase where both a boyfriend and a girlfriend who suspected their partners’ infidelity team up to expose their future spouses in duplicitous discourse.
Overall, the movie was exceptionally well done. However, I assume some of it was lost in translation, as the subtitles not only failed to do the silver screen silhouettes justice, they also frequently included egregious grammatical errors. I would assume that a director who was educated at the University of Toronto and clearly spoke very good english would have checked the subtitles before allowing his film to play in front of an english speaking audience… or maybe not. The movie’s one Achilles heel was a side story featuring an adolescent boy who cared too much for his best friend’s mother. He exposed her husband’s unfaithful activity to the mother in the hope that it would gain him much needed affection. Much to his chagrin, his truth seeking earned him permanent banishment from the household he’d once held so dear. That in itself sounds like an adequate plot, but the music that accompanied it (which to that point had been flawlessly made) was a major misstep with over-the-top enigmatic-sounding melodies straight out of Sherlock Holmes. Furthermore, the acting throughout that brief time period seemed imeasurably clunky.
To sum up, I wish mainstream big-budget North American cinema could take a page from the Asian book of tricks and understand that romcoms don’t always have to be generic, predictable, and hard to get through. There is room for originality and actual meaning beyond the Hallmark card Valentinization of Hollywood.