Friday, May 13, 2011

C'est la Vie mon Cheri


Directed by Derek Yee

Sean Lau and Anita Yuen star in this much beloved Hong Kong tearjerker, directed by the alternately brilliant and puzzling Derek Yee (One Night in Mongkok).

Lau plays Kit, a down on his luck saxophonist who moves into a crumbling apartment block after getting dumped by his more successful girlfriend. His new neighbours are a family of musicians who perform a middlebrow street show to get by. The family's daughter, Min, is a bubbly and optimistic singer who quickly strikes up a friendship with the morose Kit. Min's irrepressible good cheer slowly breaks down Kit's defences and romance begins to bloom between the unlikely pair. Unsurprisingly, their blissful happiness does not last long as Min is soon with a terrible disease.

The biggest problem with tearjerkers is that, in an effort to manipulate the audience, they very rarely accomplish anything resembling true emotional resonance which usually leaves the audience split into two groups -- those who cry profusely at the theatre and then forget about it and those who just roll their eyes and yawn. Yee's film is most definitely a tearjerker but what saves it from becoming another "Lorenzo's Oil" or "A Walk to Remember" (which, based on how well both those films did at the box office, probably isn't something a director would want to be "saved" from come to think of it...) is that it finds a way to connect on an emotional level beyond the scenes that are tailor made to draw tears. For instance, one of the most touching scenes in my opinion was when Tracy (Carina Lau) visits Min in the hospital and the two have a frank discussion about Kit, tinged with both regret, envy, and mutual respect that comes off as far more authentic than any of the film's more nakedly emotional moments.
The other thing that saves Yee's film is the strong acting, anchored by Sean Lau and Anita Yuen who both give charismatic and believable performances that stay as far away from maudlin and overwrought as possible, though at times they both obviously bow to the demands of the script and lay on the melodrama. Lau is one of Hong Kong's best and most consistent acting talents and whoever cast him in this role should be thanked profusely because a lesser actor probably would have sent this one into even cornier territory.

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