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Get Reel: Why some moving pictures end in tears

Yvonne Teh, Film Editor


Do some films make you cry? I have to confess to being one of those people who tears up easily when watching movies. I've been known to sob with joy watching a happy scene and shed a silent tear when witnessing an especially touching moment - but, hands down, it's those reality-based films with ultra-depressing stories that can make me weep buckets.

Decades ago, when I was living in Philadelphia, a Bahamian friend and I went to a matinee screening of Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Blue Kite. We knew it was a critically acclaimed drama chronicling a mainland family's fortunes, from the early 1950s through to the onset of the Cultural Revolution. But we had absolutely no idea how moved we would be by this offering. Tian's portrayal of that time was so powerful that the mainland authorities banned him from making films for a decade.

The tears kept on flowing as we stood waiting for our bus after the screening, and they continued to flow throughout the ride, and after we got home. Indeed, so exhausted were we from all that weeping that we ended up skipping dinner and just heading for some shut-eye - hours before bedtime.

Years later, I had another marathon crying session during and after a screening of Hotel Rwanda at the 2005 Hong Kong International Film Festival.

My familiarity with the subject meant I expected to be emotionally affected. Terry George's film is based on the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager with a Hutu father and Tutsi mother who provided refuge in his hotel for more than 1,000 Tutsi men, women and children in the dark days of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

But if I knew how I'd be (fortunately only temporarily) turned into an emotional wreck by the film, I wouldn't have booked a ticket for another HKIFF screening scheduled to begin less than an hour after I had finished viewing Hotel Rwanda.

Ironically, that other film I ended up viewing that day was a documentary about people living along an ancient trade route directed by none other than The Blue Kite's director, Tian Zhuangzhuang.

No tears were shed when viewing Delamu, though, as I think I had run out of my allocated quota of teardropsearlier that day.