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July 30, 2009

Love will Tear Us Apart

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Tin seung yan gaan
Nelson Yu Lik-wai - 1999
City Connection All Region DVD

There's a moment in Jia Zhange's Unknown Pleasures when one of the young men tries to make a living selling pirated DVDs. One of the titles offered is Love will Tear Us Apart. The film's in-joke is that Jia's film was filmed by Nelson Yu Lik-wai, the director of Love will Tear Us Apart. It's a small joke, to be sure, but to not understand that joke is to bring up not understanding a film or filmmaker from another culture. In one scene in Love will Tear Us Apart, a young woman from mainland China gazes upon a portrait of two Hong Kong actors from a past era, Bai Yan and Wu Chufan.

To put this another way, imagine seeing Contempt without following any of Godard's references to other films or filmmakers, or many of the other Hollywood films that depend at least partially on the viewer's knowledge of older films, many assumed to be classics. Add to this only a very general understanding about life in another country. For an assessment of Yu's film in English, let me direct you to a piece by Shelly Kraicer.

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There is sometimes talk about the existence of too much information. Sometimes, even with the resources of the internet, there is still not enough. That there is little of substance about either Love will Tear Us Apart or Lu Lik-wai is continued evidence that there is still work to be done on writing about Asian films in general, and even in regards to a film only ten years old. Definitely there is still more to be done to add to what is currently available in English.

With incredible appreciation to Sabrina Baracetti of the Udine Far East Film Festival, I was able to get a copy of one of the festival books, Far East: Ten Years of Cinema (1999 - 2008). The book, by multiple authors, covers not only the state of the art in different Asian countries, but also the state of the industry. To read this book is to understand better why smaller countries depend on genre films, which are usually the most easily exportable. The book also explains the problems filmmakers have within their own countries, making their films and getting them seen.

Having lived briefly in Thailand, I can testify first hand that Hollwood needs no help in getting people to watch their films. While Dan Glickman of the MPAA bullies his way to get quotas changed to favor American film productions, nothing is done to level the playing field. So few foreign films get shown in the U.S., and too frequently, the Asian films that do get any theatrical play, and the better DVD releases are the action and horror films, which in turn perpetuates a misunderstanding of the substance and quality of Asian films.

I apologize for hectoring any readers. Print books will continue to get the greatest respect, but electronic media gets the word out faster, theoretically to more people. My writing skills may be wanting, but I usually know a good, or even great film, when I see it. It also raises my hackles when people, especially those who get paid to write, display their ignorance, such as the writer who referred to the original The Eye as "J-Horror", not bothering to note that the Pang Brothers are from Hong Kong, or that their pan-Asian productions are usually filmed in Thailand. In the meantime, I am putting my own limited resources to the test because their are so many Asian films I haven't seen, some of which I will be inspired to write about. Don't confuse me with an expert, because there are others who know much more than me. And again, don't think that I'm the final word on anything I write, but rather the impetus for more cinematic explorations. Hopefully, some of those postings will be of substance.

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Love will Tear Us Apart is available from HK Flix.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 30, 2009 12:04 AM