July Rhapsody (2002) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but PG equivalent for adult themes                         
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Jacky Cheung, Karena Lam, Anita Mui, Eric Kot   
Director: Ann Hui
Screenplay: Ivy Ho

Review published September 18, 2003

July Rhapsody is a rare find, but worth the search if you can find a place that rents or sells a good amount of Hong Kong films.  It's a bit ponderous and moves at a leisurely pace, but the richness of the writing and situations makes it all worthwhile.  It's a bittersweet drama, like many others in Asian cinema of late, somewhat artistic, and quite profound. 

Jacky Cheung, who made his career typically playing the funny man, performs splendidly as Lam, a middle-aged Chinese teacher who has been married for 20 years to Ching (Mui).  His eldest son, Yue, is content, but feels his family is dull and not much to write about.  Lam decides to tell him a story, one which involves a middle-aged man and a younger student, and some moments they shared.  The contents reveal a side to an average family that one would be surprised to know, and no one more so than Yue.

Although at its core, the revelations in the story are easily guessed long before they happen, it's the poetic way in which July Rhapsody is told that makes it a cut above a typical sudsy drama.   Director Ann Hui (Swordman, Ordinary Heroes) does a wonderful job in her quiet, soft approach to this touching tale.  It's not always easy to discern what's the story and what's reality, as Jacky Cheung is cast as both the teacher of real-life and his story at the same time, for reasons which makes the film much more interesting to decipher.  Ivy Ho (The Accidental Spy) writes the nicely developed script, while the beautiful score by Tommy Wai (Time and Tide) is the perfect complement to Hui's subtle approach.

July Rhapsody isn't a perfect film, but it does know its limitations, and excels in its modest reach by making even the smallest things feel important.  It's a slow film, not really appealing to the typical action packed HK film crowd, or for those who like the broad comedies, the kind that you generally find starring Jacky Cheung.  On the other hand, it will be largely ignored since it is put together in video retailers in the HK film section, which is generally just action and comedies.  It will be a shame if the July Rhapsody doesn't find a much wider audience, as it's one which should appeal to any who love small arthouse dramas the world over.   A strong recommendation if that means you.    

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo