Kwan's patchy epic loses its grip

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 March, 1998, 12:00am

Films by director Stanley Kwan Kam-pang beg the question: what is art? Previous efforts like Centre Stage, Full Moon In New York, and Red Rose, White Rose win awards and are lauded as the artistic peak of Hong Kong cinema. An equally vociferous opposing camp find these movies the height of artistic pretentiousness. The debate continues with Hold You Tight.

The movie has all the hallmarks of a critical favourite: a non-linear story line, gay sex, male frontal nudity, and a 'commercial' star in her first 'serious' role. The film is certainly Kwan's most personal work to date. Yet as intriguing as these elements may be, they do not gel into a movie that is particularly interesting or profound.

Jimmy Ngai Siu-yan's script deals with themes common in Kwan's oeuvre: unrequited love, lost love, and tainted love. People come and go, their paths cross, they have sex and/or become emotionally involved, but in the end they never experience or come to know the meaning of true love. Moon (Chingmy Yau Suk-ching) is unhappily married to Wai (Sunny Chan Kam-hung) and has an affair with their apartment complex's Taiwanese lifeguard, Jie (Ke You-lin).

Moon goes to Taiwan but dies in a plane crash. The sexually ambivalent Jie becomes obsessed with Wai, who has a secret admirer in gay real estate agent Tong (Eric Tsang Chi-wai). Wai and Tong eventually become close friends, though they never have a physical relationship. Jie goes back to Taiwan, where he meets boutique owner Rosa (also played by Chingmy Yau).

The film does not relate the plot in a linear time-frame, so it is in the movie's opening scene at Kai Tak Airport that we see Rosa berate her Filipina maid for misplacing her travel documents, causing her to miss the flight that takes Moon to her death.

A prominent sub-plot involves Sandra Ng Kwun-yu as the manager of a video shop patronised by Moon and Wai - but this, like the unconventional time-frame, seems extraneous to the effectiveness and success of the movie as a whole.

It is an interesting idea to depict the same scene more than once, from different perspectives, but it failed to have the desired effect. The opening airport scene is the only moment the paths of Rosa and Moon cross, though each is unaware of the other. Nearly an hour later, the scene is revisited, but with a twist. A similar treatment is accorded an episode at an MTR station, in which Tong and Jie separately and secretly observe Wai. All this might be absorbing if only the situations and characters were more engaging.

Hold You Tight invites analysis, with its complex characters, their motives, and psyches. But this is not the same as being profound or compelling.

The pseudo-sensational moments, too, never really delivered: Tong in a gay sauna sexual encounter, where the action drifts off-screen; Wai's full frontal nudity, in long shot and only vaguely visible, reflected in a steamed-up mirror. The scenes promise controversy, but are more packaging than substance.

Love them or hate them, Kwan's movies incite passion in critics, and Hold You Tight is no exception.

It is defiantly out of the mainstream. While this does not automatically qualify them as 'art', movies like Hold You Tight inject variety and vitality into the increasingly moribund Hong Kong movie scene.

Hold You Tight, Panasia