Chronicling 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.
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