Saturday, 11 June 2011


A Beautiful Life [Review]

Opinion: B

Superb first half that allows its central protagonists lots of space to develop and generate audience-alluring chemistry shares approving nods with the impeccable acting by Shu Qi and Liu Ye. The second half opts for a lengthy melodrama that feels a little mishandled, as if it wasn't sure of its intended course of focus to partake. Despite so, Andrew Lau has further honed his directorial techniques since 2010's Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.

When they first meet, no one can see this coming.

She is a young, aggressive Beijing-based real estate agent from Hong Kong carrying an affair with a married man who also happens to be her boss. He is an honest but way too rigid policeman in his midlife crisis, who remains single to take care of his kid brother.

A chance encounter in a karaoke lounge leads to an unlikely friendship. While he becomes infatuated with her, finding her pronunciation of his name the most dulcet tune he has ever heard, she is wrestling with being dumped by her boss and fired from her job at the same time. She eventually runs off to Hong Kong after borrowing almost his entire savings.

Several years have gone by before she realizes he is the one for her. She comes back to Beijing to look for him, only to find out he is dying of vascular dementia. She decides to live with him and take care of the rest of his life. When she discovers she is pregnant, she keeps a diary for him, so that the baby will know who his father is after he is born.

On one rainy day, he is out walking and forgets the road home. By the time he is eventually admitted to the hospital, he is already terminally ill and cannot even remember his own name. Only when she comes to his bedside and starts whispering his name in his ear does he remember distinctly her voice - and her - again.

With a formulaic story at its core, it will not fail to attract genre fans and romantics into the theatres to relive sweet tender love that serves as a plot device to evoke heartbreaking sorrows via tearjerking and touching moments. This would have been your routine romantic melodrama fare if not for the two main leads - Shu Qi and Liu Ye.

Already renowned as some of the best actors in Asia, both are seen pushing boundaries in Lau's film and expanding the possibilities of their scripted roles. The scenarios are probably scripted, but their spectacular chemistry and interaction on the silver screen should solely be credited to the two amazing actors.

Shu Qi works her willful and sometimes unruly imperialism upon an upright policeman who readily renders his services to practically anybody. To be honest, Shu Qi proposes a very charming personality to the audience and often steals the limelight easily despite being casted opposite a very competent actor.

Their performance could make waves during the next Asian award season.

Together with both's strong acting, Lau has managed to allow them a lot of space and screen time to achieve a well-developed first half that recollects how the couple met and the sweet-bitter banters between them. The pace was comfortable and it allowed the couple to be in control and lead us through their situations that we almost overlooked the plot cliches sometimes.

What caught my attention are the specific contrasting themes that Lau set within the main story.

Bliss can be found in the simplest of life. A happy life doesn't need to be the template one where glitz and riches saturate. Shu Qi shows this through a transition from her greed-driven capitalistic nature to a somewhat more caring and accommodating "communal" trait. It could be just me but I see this as an indirect subtle reference of a capitalistic Hong Kong and a fast-tracking communist Mainland China.

There's other references to the culture variance between Hong Kong and China, which are very much welcomed as it does highlight a need for such discussions with the tide of new times proving to lean towards and favour more of China. There's a hint of trends where people travel from Hong Kong to China in search of better economic advantages (China's rapidly growing economy is a global economic concern). The current cultural notion of the real estate woes that plague families in Hong Kong are also displayed through Shu Qi's drunken stupor.

Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the extended scene where Shu Qi pours out her woes in a drunken state as she is accompanied by Liu Ye through a back alley. All within a single long take, not only does it work as a influential plot scene that allows Shu Qi's character a self-explanatory background fill-in, it is also a wonderful showcase of Shu Qi's acting prowess.

On a sidenote, it also indicates that Lau has progressed from a filmmaker who fancies quick edits to one who is now able to indulge in the potentials of long takes.

If not for the second half that tries to induce missionary melodramatic emotions within the audience over a relatively long span of time, this film could have ended upon an earlier full stop to make this film a beautiful love tale of a lifetime. Expectations have to be adjusted accordingly for this genre film. For the record in clarification (especially for couples and the ladies), I felt it was a B (objectively due to certain technicalities) but my heart (that's somewhat a sucker for hapless romantic tearjerkers) felt it was closer to an A-.

Here's a few clips of the songs featured to allow you a better feel of this film:


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