Perhaps Love (2005) / Romance-Musical
aka Ru Guo - Ai

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for adult themes and a scary moment
Running time: 107 min.

Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Xun, Jacky Cheung, Ji Jin-hee, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng
Director: Peter Chan

Screenplay: Oi Wah Lam, Raymond To
Review published August 16, 2008

Peter Chan (Warlords, The Love Letter) directs this quasi-musical, reportedly the first musical from China in roughly 40 years, a treat for the eyes and ears reminiscent of the go-with-the-flow, story-within-a-story, love triangle vibe of Moulin Rouge, except with original music.  Also, without the humor, as this is a rather morose look at am angst-filled romance between three people, two men who are willing to offer everything up for a woman whose career goals leaves them as disposable when they get in the way of her becoming the superstar she dreams of being.  It would go on to win many Hong Kong film awards for its music, cinematography, choreography and costume design, and break box office records in its native country.

The story takes place in the present, as director Nie Wen (Cheung, July Rhapsody) is set to make his umpteenth movie, a musical in a circus setting that eerily echoes what's going on in the behind the scenes melodrama.  He is the former lover of his main star actress, Sun Na (Xun, The Emperor and the Assassin), who was once his muse, only to leave him to seek greener pastures and untold fame.  Complicating the dynamic even further, the male lead role has been given to Lin Jian-dong (Kaneshiro, House of the Flying Daggers), also once Sun's lover prior to Nie Wen, and who has spent his years since she left him pining for her.  Having Sun Na in the film so close, passion ignites on the part of the two men, as Lin reminisces about their once pure love prior to Sun's fame, while Nie Wen, seeing her slip through his fingers, begins to rewrite large portions of the movie, echoing the agonizing themes of a love triangle askew.

Although I haven't reviewed it as of this writing, I have seen Moulin Rouge.  It wasn't easy, as it took about five separate attempts just to get through the first half hour, giving up when the sensory overload, quick cuts, and silly humor proved too much for me to bear.  I did finally manage to sit through it, and didn't like it for the reasons I've just mentioned.  Finding a film that is reminiscent of Moulin Rouge didn't fill me with high hopes, but at least it would allow me to see just how appealing a similar story and presentation would be without Baz Luhrman's directorial masturbation spewed all over it.  Alas, it didn't fare a great deal better, as the story underneath all of the beautifully photographed images is slow, overwrought, and without much actual emotional impact.  One might chalk it up to the fact that I'm reading the subtitled translation of words sung in Mandarin, a language I don't understand.  I'd venture that if you do, it will fare a bit better for the simple reason of the lyrics meshing with the music sufficiently to be more than nice melodies accompanied by simple words of poetry to read.

A film this gorgeous will have its share of fans, of that I have no doubt.  However, as much as I could admire the production values that went into such a spectacle, at no time did I ever really feel moved by anything that happened within the story itself.  We watch a good man who obviously loves a woman to the point where he might actually be classified as severely depressed, and yet, even if he were to somehow melt her icy exterior (she refuses to even acknowledge they had any past shared), we feel that he deserves so much better.  I think that the film could only work if we were to see just what it is about Sun that makes her attractive and worth sacrificing all in order to garner her attention.  She is mostly shown in a very negative light, almost without sympathy; even in the flashbacks to their loving past she seems aloof and self-centered.  A true happy ending would be for him to get someone much more giving and loving (and attractive) while she meets a tragic demise. 

The dance numbers have an Indian flavor, which shouldn't be a surprise when you learn that Bollywood legend Farah Khan (Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair) did the choreography.  The sumptuous visuals come from two of the best cinematographers to work in Asia, Christopher Doyle (Last Life in the Universe, Hero) and Peter Pau (The Touch, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon).  There's nothing in the talent of the crew that isn't A-caliber, and even the actors deliver some of their best work on film.  The dance sequences employ the modern approach (a la Chicago) of jumping point of view, showing the same dancers in different attires, cutting frequently in a music video fashion.  It works well enough, though there is still a disconnect involved, as we admire the way they are pieced together without it enhancing the drama that comes in between them to any discernible degree.

If you enjoy musicals for the razzle dazzle and splashy eye candy, you're likely to think that Perhaps Love is worthwhile viewing, even if it may be a bit of a bore when singing isn't involved.  Like many musicals, liberties are taken with the characters, especially during the musical pieces, where we can only view the events as metaphorical (the anguished number near the end features Nie and Sun on trapezes suspended in the middle of the city, attached to nothing in particular, and a big cheat in trying to trick the audience with a false end).  Although obviously crafted by some of the finest professionals in each respective craft, more love is given to the look and sound of the players and the world they inhabit than in giving us characters we can understand the motivation of or a story that strikes us on any level.  It's a lot of flash and aesthetic beauty wrapped around a hollow package, with characters you want to slap to reality so that they don't sulk their entire lives away for reasons that are ostensibly not worth anguishing over. 

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo