Durian Durian, 2000

A sweet little girl from the the city of Shenzhen in mainland China named Fan (Mak Wai-fan) recounts with innocent reflection her father’s early dawn ritual of dressing in complete darkness, preparing his meal, and rolling his portable cart to the train station, as he makes his exhausting daily commute to Hong Kong to buy and sell cigarettes. It is a difficult life of prolonged separation, and Fan waits in eager anticipation for the return of Hong Kong to China, when the family can freely immigrate to Hong Kong to start a new life under better economic conditions. In the meantime, her parents have decided to take up residence in the poor, working class district of Mongkok under three month temporary visas in the hope that they can avoid deportation to mainland China until the reunification renders their violation of expired visas irrelevant. Everyday, as Fan and her mother wash dishes in the street, she observes a beautiful, well dressed young prostitute named Yan (Qin Hailu) traverse the narrow, squalid street, accompanied by her street tough pimp (Wai Yiu Yung). The film then shifts focus to follow Yan as she hurriedly eats a meal, collects a set of towels from a nondescript hotel, encourages her client to take a shower, cajoles him into giving her a big tip, looking under the mattress for loose change. One day, while walking through the alley with Yan, the pimp is knocked unconscious when he is struck in the back of the head with a spiky, hard skinned durian fruit. Unable to call the police because of her profession and temporary residency, Yan seeks assistance from Fan’s mother, who is equally unwilling to become involved for fear of drawing attention to their illegal immigrant status. The chance encounter with Fan proves to be the start of an innocent friendship between the two heroines. Soon, the similarities between the younger Fan and the older, more experienced Yan emerge, as the two mainland immigrants find their idealistic view of Hong Kong shattered by limited opportunity, an unfamiliar culture, and marginalized existence.

Fruit Chan creates an affectionate, contemplative, and sensitively realized film on disillusionment, economic survival, and nostalgia in Durian Durian. The figurative national homecoming of Hong Kong through the British handover of the colony to China as a Special Administrative Region in 1997 serves as a personal account of the lives of Fan and Yan as they find themselves alienated from their adopted home and longing for the familiar ritual and simple life of their native land. Chan uses contrasting camerawork and color palettes to illustrate the dichotomous lifestyles of the two regions: the dark, saturated hues of anonymous hotel rooms, rapid cuts, and frenetic pace of Mongkok’s streets seem alien and incongruous with the longer takes, medium shots, and warm tones of northeast China. Inevitably, what emerges is a sense of disconnection, abandonment, and irreconcilability that invariably reflects the incongruence and uncertainty of life in post handover Hong Kong.

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