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June 29, 2011

All about Love

All about love poster.jpg

Duk haan chau faan
Ann Hui - 2010
Vicol Entertainment Region 3 DVD

What is evident about All about Love is Ann Hui's love of urban Hong Kong. Unlike the majority of her peers, Hui has not made films in mainland China, nor are her films designed to appeal to the mainland audience. Some of the opening shots have some resemblance to Johnny To's own love letter to Hong Kong, Sparrow, with the series of shots of the narrow streets, often connected by steeps flights of steps, and the piano and violin duo, giving parts of the film something of the casual feel of a free wheeling French film. Hui's Hong Kong is a combination of crowded street markets, small neighborhood bars and restaurants, and glitzy skyscrapers, both ethnic Chinese and international.

Fran Martin's book, Backward Glances: Contemporary Chinese Cultures and the Female Homoerotic Imaginary, discusses love between female school girls as the basis for many narratives, both in film and literature. Most of the relationships in these stories, whether sexual or intensely platonic, are between adolescent girls, with the relationships ending when the girls leave the all female environment of school. Many of the narratives cited by Martin involve one of the characters looking back at the past, at a "lost love" that might have continued if not for demands of family, society, or one's own sense of identity. Hui's film might be considered a response to that genre, presenting new possibilities for women in love with each other. There are several breaks from the film narrative where we see pen and ink drawings of a girls' school, including some images of two girls sharing intimate moments together. While there is nothing in the film by way of an explicit explanation, there is sufficient suggestion that Hui's two main characters, Macy and Anita, may have initially begun their relationship as students in such a school. It is also through these pen and ink drawings that Hui is able to connect the film with the kind of framework more familiar to Chinese language filmgoers.

all about love.jpg

Macy and Anita are former lovers who see each other for the first time in about a dozen years at a meeting for pregnant women. Both are still single, and neither cares to define themselves with labels, veering between relationships with both men and women. At a meeting with a small group of lesbian friends, when push comes to shove, Macy states to the women who prefer unambiguous identities, "You're marginalizing bisexuality. How's that different from heterosexual hegemony?". Hui has almost always been a socially committed filmmaker, and occasionally this film gets bogged down in polemics, only to get buoyed back up with the series of street scenes.

Macy, a lawyer, finds herself pregnant by a former client, a married man. Anita discovers that her one night stand was with a young man not even 20 years old. Both women are well into their Thirties, and the ticking of their respective biological clocks is loud. In addition to making sense of their rekindled relationship, Macy and Anita have decisions to make about their respective pregnancies. Complicating matters is that both women are pursued by their male lovers, often oblivious to the idea that the women have eyes for each other.

The film's Chinese title translates as "Leisurely Fried Rice". And in some ways, that is a more accurate description for the film, especially as some of the best moments are of the characters just poking along on the streets without any pressing need to get from one place to another. When Macy and Anita first get together again, the two take a walk to Anita's apartment,guarded by the recording of a barking dog, only to walk together back to Macy's building, deciding to walk back to Anita's a second time. In Hui's Hong Kong, there are few level paths, with the city streets representing the frequent ups and downs of the characters' lives.

I haven't seen other films written by Yee Shan Yeung, but from her brief filmography, she seems to specialize in films about romantic entanglements. Yee's most recent film has the English language title of Hi, Fidelity. Does anyone know if Sandra Ng and Vivian Chow knew each other at St. Stephen's Girls College? It could well be possible as the women are only two years apart in age. All about Love marks Vivian Chow's return to the screen after a fourteen year absence. Among Chow's earlier films is Tom, Dick and Hairy, directed by Peter Chan, Sandra Ng's husband. There is the sense that the two women have been longtime friends in real life based on the ease they have with each other, displaying affection including a shared bubble bath. Hui plays on the more obvious feminine appeal of Chow, who in her older films epitomized the ideal young female. Ng's appearance is could be described as tomboyish, more to serve her role as lawyer who is serious about her work, rather than as a statement about sexual identity. Maybe I'm reading too much in the finale with the two stars dancing the tango as a nod towards another Hong Kong film about two male lovers in Argentina, although it is Ng and Chow who are happy together.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 29, 2011 08:25 AM