Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2020 8:47 pm 
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Pre-marital squabbles over a bridal shop make for a delightful, realistic farce

Norris Wong Yi Lam's directorial debut is a feisty, fun new film that seems unbound by Hong Kong movie traditions. Its cutting edge points toward the current status of women in Hong Kong. Far more than a romantic comedy, in the foreground it's an entertainingly specific tale of divorce, marriage and relationship squabbles and discoveries with a semi-farcical plot-line. Beyond that it may be one of the most fresh and original films to come out of Hong Kong in some time.

The protagonist is Cheung Lei-fong, known as "Fong" (Stephy Tang) a young woman who works as a clerk in a small bridal store in Golden Plaza, a mall in the Prince Edward district known for its affordable yet elegant wedding merchandise. Nearby her problematic boyfriend Edward Yan Chun-win (stage actor Chu Pak-hong), whom she's lived with for seven years, has a little wedding photography shop, and they live together in a small flat over the bridal shop.

Stephy Tang, though perhaps a tad more recessive than necessary for my taste, delivers an engaging and subtle performance as a woman who is shy and tight-lipped, but by no means weak, and now coming to a time of major decisions. She may deserve a generous share of the acting awards, but Chu Pak-hong, as Edward, is a revelation and delight as a loud-mouthed man-child who is dominated by and dependent on his tiny but iron-willed mom (Nina Paw), who wants to keep the couple in the flat Fong doesn't even really like.

Edward is the kind of lazy multitasker who may be arguing with Fong, talking with a client on the phone, and playing a video game at the same time in their tiny flat. Chu isn't handsome, or particularly young: he's real, but also funny. Behind his macho outbursts and sputtering complaints there is always tenderness and warmth. He's possessive and obnoxious, but we can believe that Edward loves Fong. We have to discover whether Fong loves Edward. She doesn't not love him. But the way Edward searches through Fong's stuff and bombards her with text messages is borderline abusive, and makes you wonder if she should.

Also to be mentioned, herself a significant statement since she leads to a discussion of the topic of gay marriage, is the lively bridal shop assistant, Yee (Eman Lam), who's pretty openly lesbian. But the other main personality we need to be acquainted with appears a little later when chance leads him to find Fong, whom he's been looking for for years. He is Yang Shuwei (Jin Kai-jie), a Mainlander. Ten years ago Fong entered into a sham marriage with him, using the money ("chump change," she now realizes) to afford to move into her own apartment. (Hong Kong flats are costly as well as small.) Yang wanted to be married to a Hong Kong woman to apply for a Hong Kong ID so he could eventually move to Los Angeles, his dream. Well, he has not acquired a Hong Kong ID or gotten to L.A. Now he wants to get married.

And it has turned out that the divorce Fong left with the agency to arrange for her never took place because the agent got arrested, and she and Yang are still legally wed. Bad for both of them since Yang has a girlfriend (who will shortly turn out to be pregnant) and Edward wants to marry Fong, and his mother wants the event to happen in a mere matter of months. Arranging the divorce alone might take Fong a year or two. It seemed both Fong and Edward favored a low-keyed affair, but Edward's mom has other ideas. A fancy surprise public betrothal ceremony (see photo above) makes Fong feel the pressure.

Just as in Noah Baumbach's wonderful recent movie Marriage Story (the 2019 NYFF Centerpiece Film), this is really all about the lively, amusing scenes and dialogue of a squabbling couple, including some virtuosic verbal battles, but is also, importantly,
qiote specific about legal requirements and where all this happens. The sense of place comes from director Wong's having lived near Prince Edward all her life.

Yang is still young, and it may come as a surprise to find that he, with his trendy hairstyle and free-ranging ambitions, turns out to be both hipper and more progressive than the film's Hongkongers. His spirit may make Fong aware of the limitations of her life and her relationship. There are moments, even in the final sequence, when you wonder if Fong may drift toward him. But I don't think there is really a chance of this on either side; it's just a sign of director Wong's skill at keeping every moment of this enjoyable film and its characters open and interesting. Director-writer Wong has made a film that's a prime example of Hong Kong's move away from blockbuster actioners toward lifestyle and relationship pictures - one that's not only amusing but smart and grown up.

When listing the main characters we must not forget the smallest one, the little turtle Fong brings home from an aquarium shop on Goldfish Street (another local feature) because she sees it flipped over in the tank, and then gets expelled by Edward's bossy mom over an issue of feng shui. The whole relationship almost collapses over turtles, and Edward hopes to restore it through them. At film's end, we don't know if he'll succeed.

My Prince Edward/ 金都, 92 mins., debuted Nov. 17, 2019 at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, showing next day at Taipei Golden Horse fest, and the end of Nov. at Seoul Independent Film Festival. It won many nominations and awards including screenplay and new director awards for Wong. Theatrical opening it Taiwan May 22020. Screened for this review as part of the virtual 2020 New York Asian Film Festival (Aug. 28-Sept. 12). It has a scheduled country-wide North American release, and you'll soon probably have the opportunity to see it.

Nov. 12, 2020: Norris Wong: My Prince Edward arrives on DVD and Digital on Dec. 15, 2020.

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