Fri, Dec 23, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Big budget films go head to head

The most talked-about flicks of the year from China and Hong Kong are all about love and every variation of it

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Promise was shot with a bigger budget than Perhaps Love, but the competition has only just begun.

PHOTO COURTESY OF FOX MOVIES

Two Chinese-language films, both contenders for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar next year, are slated to battle for local audiences this weekend.

Chen Kaige's (陳凱歌) fantasy epic The Promise (無極) packs a martial arts punch, whereas Perhaps Love (如果愛) by Hong Kong director Peter Ho-Sun Chan (陳可辛) is the first grandiose Chinese musical for 30 years and looks set to elevate the romance genre from the status of vignette to a theater of magnificence.

Both films not only had gigantic budgets, star-studded casts and A-list production teams, but they also deal with a common subject matter: a love triangle and a celestial stepping in to the story to navigate the courses of the characters' lives.

Having the biggest production budget (NT$1.3 billion) of any Chinese-language movie to date and taking three years to complete, The Promise is a blockbuster and doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Set in ancient China, the film revolves around a love triangle between a princess (Cecilia Cheung(張柏芝)), a general of the Crimson Army (Japanese veteran actor Hiroyuki Sanada), and his slave Kunlun (Korea's Jang Dong Gun).

Cursed by a goddess when little, the princess is given ultimate beauty and wealth but is destined not to experience true love until time can flow backwards and the dead can come back to live.

Destiny is the driving force throughout the story and leads the characters to a grand finale in which the slave, who can run faster than light, uses his extraordinary power to break the princess' curse.

With heavy special effects, the film is a show of exquisite cinematography combined with a conventional storyline and sometimes geeky dialogue that occasionally draws unintended laughs from the audience.

The characters, though not fully developed, beguile with their narrative simplicity. Both Hiroyuki Sanada and Jang Dong Gun give tasteful performances when delivering lines in Mandarin. Nicholas Tse (謝霆鋒) succeeds in giving a rather camp portrayal of the chief villain.

Stylish and flashy, the film is an astounding visual spectacle which offers a delightful viewing experience for moviegoers who enjoy a simple plot and impressive action scenes.

Perhaps Love is a return to director Chan's favorite subject: love. It's a love triangle wrapped in a movie within a movie.

Hong Kong actor Lin Jian-dong (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武)) arrives in Shanghai to star in a musical by director Nie Wen (played by Jacky Cheung (張學友)) and finds out the film's leading lady Sun Na (played by Zhou Xun (周迅)) was his puppy love in Beijing a decade previously. His reignited passion meets the indifference of the actress who just wants to leave history in the past.

The story journeys back to Beijing ten years earlier when Lin and Sun first met and fell in love. Poor and down-on-her-luck, Sun leaves Lin for Nie who can help her on the way to fame and fortune.

Unaware of their past relationship, Nie tries to reclaim his diminishing fame through taking a part in a musical about a love triangle which mirrors the characters' real life situation.

As Lin and Sun's old love is rekindled, the fictional and the real inextricably intertwine and push Nie to reflect on what's happening.

The film also has its fair share of fantasy elements.

A character named Monty (played by Korean actor Ji Jin-hee) narrates the film. Longing for genuine human emotion, Monty pops up in a number of disguises throughout the movie to guide the characters and help them rediscover the emotions and memories they have long forgotten or denied existed.

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