FILM REVIEW: Lee Chi-yuan finds poetry in motion

An artful combination of improvisational acting, non-linear storytelling, long takes and handheld camerawork make ‘Beautiful Crazy’ a beautiful movie


Fri, Apr 10, 2009 - Page 16


With Beautiful Crazy (亂青春), director Lee Chi-yuan (李啟源) breaks from the conventional approach to storytelling in an attempt to capture the fluidity of time, love and memory. The result is a cinematic poem about three teenage girls and their friendship, desires and betrayals, in which the time in a linear sense collapses and non-chronological montages drive the story. Fragments of the characters’ lives from the past, present and future intertwine, and the past is juxtaposed with and thrust into the present in the same way that one’s memory is constantly filtered, transformed and re-interpreted.

Angel (Angel Yao, 姚安琪) and Xiao-Bu (Amiya Lee, 李律) are best friends. They like to ride on a swing and play together in their secret hideout. Like her alcoholic father, Angel doesn’t talk much, but she feels her heart pounding the day when Xiao-Bu makes her burn a love letter a boy had given her.

Years later, Xiao-Bu, her boyfriend, and Ah-mi (Liao Chien-hui, 廖千慧) enjoy a summer day at an amusement park. “We will always be like this. Always,” says Ah-mi.

The three hold hands as the sun sets, and, for a moment, Xiao-Bu remembers Angel, the field with sunflowers where they played, and how they once fought over a cigarette in the pouring rain.

As the film moves back and forth in time, audiences are able to piece together the girls’ stories and their relationships to each other, even though initial perceptions often change as new perspectives, anecdotes and scenes are brought into play.

Lee would not have been able to pull off this kind of lyrical cinema if not for the mesmerizing camerawork of Dutch/Indonesian documentary filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich, whose 2004 Shape of the Moon won top prizes at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the Sundance Film Festival. Helmrich, who makes his debut as a cinematographer for a fictional film with Beautiful Crazy, is known for his long takes which he produces using a mount that frees the camera from conventional movements for a method he calls “single shot cinema.”

Moving freely around the characters and spaces, Helmrich’s improvisational, handheld camera focuses on the intimate and immediate rather than the narrative, capturing shifts in mood and the fluidity of emotions.

The acting is also improvised. Rather than reciting lines from a script, the three leads appear to spontaneously react and interact with each other and to their surroundings.

More often than not, the film’s landscapes and settings assume a poetic significance. A scene where Xiao-Bu and Angel fight in a junkyard next to a lotus pond represents Lee’s idea of youth, which is simultaneously tender and rough, beautiful and ugly.

In Beautiful Crazy, Lee has created a unique cinematic vocabulary that invites us as the audience to actively experience rather than passively watch what the characters experience and feel, giving us a glimpse of old but familiar feelings and images that belonged to our own youth.