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March 01, 2010

Juliet in Love

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Jue lai yip yue leung saan ang
Wilson Yip - 2000
Mei Ah Entertainment Region 0 DVD

I didn't know much about Juliet in Love before seeing the DVD other than that a couple people I occasionally exchange notes with regarding Asian films thought it notable that it was listed among the top Hong Kong films of the past decade. This is the kind of film that defies any easy description. The story, as such, is centered around the type of characters who would be peripheral to many Hong Kong films, taking a roundabout route from loosely threaded beginning to heartbreaking end.

This Juliet is actually Judy, a restaurant hostess, who meets luckless gambler Jordan, who attempts to scam a reservation by posing as On Cheng, a local gangster. The real Cheng shows up, with the two men ready for what appears to be a showdown. Jordan later learns that it is Cheng who is owed a significant gambling debt. The three meet again at a hospital where Jordan and Judy end up babysitting the baby of Cheng's mistress. What Wilson Yip's film is really about is people brought together by food, money, bottled Coke, and sense of family.

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As if to underline Judy's status as an outsider, she lives in a dilapidated old house a good distance from the high rises of Hong Kong, with her grandfather who seems to live for his Coca Cola. As the grandfather says, "No Coke, no hope". And on the surface it seems like one of those devices that filmmakers use to made a character adorably quirky, yet is arguably truthful to the little or big attachments or addictions that are embedded in daily existence. For Judy, a divorcee and breast cancer survivor, her job allows her to dress up, and be in a situation where she is control of others within her limited sphere. Jordan is content to drift along in life, letting events dictate his actions.

The act of sharing meals ties the characters together. The three main characters encounter each other at the formal, brightly lit restaurant where Judy serves as hostess. Jordan and Cheng meet again at a more informal neighborhood dive tucked away from a main thoroughfare. Jordan and Judy first share a meal at a street restaurant. Judy also feeds Jordan food from the restaurant where she works, food supposedly intended for her cola addicted grandfather who has the bed next to Jordan where both are hospitalized. Jordan and Judy also spend time simply trying to figure out how to mix the formula for Cheng's baby. Key is a scene of Jordan and Judy sharing a simply noodle meal at Judy's home, eyes gazing at each other, establishing an unstated mutual attraction.

There is one moment when Sandra Ng, with back to the camera, exposes her chest with the one missing breast, and asks Francis Ng if he still finds her attractive. Otherwise, Wilson Yip reveals Juliet's character and sense of self through visual clues - the dowdy clothes when she is not working, the open drawer with the mastectomy bra on top, as well as her general self effacing manner, whether with Jordan or the driving instructor who shyly pines for her.

Juliet in Love doesn't hide its low budget. There is a casualness to the flow of the story as well as the way many of the shots were composed. For several reasons, Juliet in Love has been an anomaly in Wilson Yip's filmography, mostly known for male centered action films.

In an interview that in part discusses Juliet in Love, Yip explains his reasons for making the film ambiguous at the end: "I think I share my feelings with the audience and after I lead the audience into the story, I don’t want the audience to think and feel exactly like I do. I was sharing a love feeling with the audience, I tried not to explain everything because I believe one has his own interpretation on different things." As to the more central theme of family: "Maybe because my dad passed away when I was 16. I love family, I like the feeling of having a close family. I also treasure friendship. Family can be gone all of a sudden, when you don't expect it. I didn’t realize this had an impact on me and on my movies and now I'm more aware of it."

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 1, 2010 12:32 AM


Hi Peter, I also recently watched Juliet in Love, also because of the mention in the HK film best of decade poll, and I guess I share the feeling of the person quoted in the capsule review, as in I couldn't quite put a finger on what made this rather ragged-round-the-edges film so touching in the end. Well, actually I could, it's Sandra Ng's performance. Another Wilson Yip film I watched recently, Bullets over Summer, did the same thing of bringing disparate and lonely characters together for a moment of happiness in a little makeshift family, only to have that torn apart. I thought that these endings might be due to the requirements of HK films ie a final shoot out and melodramatic twist at the end at the expense of character development, but this idea of losing family now sounds more personal to Mr Yip's experience. Thanks for this and previous articles, and I look forward to the next one.

Posted by: Helena at March 1, 2010 03:53 PM

I would like to propose not to hold off until you get big sum of money to buy goods! You can just get the loan or bank loan and feel yourself comfortable

Posted by: Coleen20PACHECO at March 3, 2010 10:36 AM