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February 17, 2006

Everlasting Regret, 2005

everlasting.gifChronicling the life and romantic trajectory of a postwar beauty queen named Qiyao (Sammi Cheng) over the span of forty years, Stanley Kwan's epic period drama, Everlasting Regret is a film about unrealized ambition and missed opportunity in more ways than one. The film cuts broad, elliptical swaths across Chinese post-revolution history through Qiyao's childhood relationships and star-crossed love affairs with people who represented the social milieu of Shaghai during the conflicting, often traumatic period of transition caused by shifting and reprioritization of national policies instituted by the nascent government as it sought to consolidate and centralize power to Beijing, secure its borders, and ensure its longevity: a once-powerful nationalist officer (Jun Hu) who is forced to go into indefinite hiding - and subsequently, exile - when the Communists seize complete control over China, a photographer and loyal friend who moves from Shanghai to the province during the Cultural Revolution in order to accommodate the government's call to reinforce the workforce in the rural, state-run industries, a businessman (Daniel Wu) from a well-connected merchant family who finds his economic opportunities increasingly dwindling in the unstable, increasingly state-controlled economy of Shanghai, a young man (Jue Huang) trading in the blackmarket in order to secure a passport to leave the country. Revisiting the narrative structure presented in his earlier film Centre Stage on the short, tragic life of actress Ruan Ling-yu, Everlasting Regret places the themes of changing fortunes, elusiveness of happiness, and social entrapment within the overarching (and perhaps, overreaching) historical framework of political transformation. Unfolding as a tepid invocation of Wong Kar-wai melancholic romanticism crossed with Hou Hsiao-hsien elliptical historicity (particularly evident in the film's incorporation of period pop music to contextualize the era), Kwan's use of temporal ellipses has the paradoxical affect of creating an alienated portrait of an intimate personal and national history.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 17, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Film Comment Selects


Much of the music in this film is NOT period music, but verbatim borrowings from Ozu films of the 1950s!

A major disappointment. Many people blame the actress Sammi Cheng -- and I think this is largely unwarranted. The rhythm of the editing and the overall sketchiness of the presentation seemed to sabotage any possibility of success for Cheng here.

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Mar 13, 2006 10:17 AM | Permalink

I agree, Cheng did a respectable job with what she had to work with, the more problemmatic aspect was in the ellipses in the sense that what was left in wasn't rendered enough to give you that contextual insight. I can see that Kwan was going for a kind of Hou elliptical distanciation, but he didn't quite pull off the "essential-ness" of the scenes that he chose to leave in as a representation of the era.

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 13, 2006 10:44 AM | Permalink

I am mystified about Kwan's extensive "appropriation" of Ozu's film music -- it just didn't seem to fit well at all most of the time. I couldn't read the Chinese credits to see what they said about the score.

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Mar 13, 2006 11:02 AM | Permalink

Unfortunately, I only have vague memories of that screening day (caught six), but I don't remember that the end credits were translated on the print either. I honestly don't remember that the music was expressly Ozu's but I do remember thinking that the music wasn't well suited, except as generic "era pieces" that weren't really suppose to complement the story.

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 13, 2006 12:13 PM | Permalink

Definitely lots of Ozu music -- including one jaunty piece Ozu apparently liked so much that he used in several of his films.

My HK preferences these days are leaning strongly towards Johnnie To and Ann Hui. Both are routinely reliably imaginative and creative. Kwan's record is just getting too spotty for me.

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Mar 13, 2006 12:46 PM | Permalink

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