Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 17, 2020 1:58 pm 
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Eros: The Hand (2004) - Roxie/BAMPFA retrospective in 4K restoration


Eroticism of tailoring

An extended form, seen for the first time, of a short piece by Wong Kar-wai from 2004 (same year as 2046) for a three-part anthology including Soderbergh and Antonioni, this is like a short story. It depicts the erotic/professional relationship of a young tailor, Zhang (Chang Chen), and his most memorable client, a beautiful, glamorous, mysterious, tragic courtesan, Miss Hua (Gong Li). While this may seem a relatively slight effort, "The Hand" is still fabulous filmmaking and another example, like In the Mood for Love, of Wong's transition from his buoyant, frenetic style into something more static, grand, sad, and drenched in period.

This has all the glamor and restraint and exquisite Christopher Doyle cinematography of In the Mood for Love, and William Chang Suk-ping's tacky-chic set design and his editing. But it's all in a new key/ The longing and frustration of the earlier film has been transferred from two bourgeois married people to the world of a tailor shop and a prostitute. One could almost say these themes work better here.

It's not a surprise that after Miss Hua gives young Zhang a hand job when he first comes as an apprentice to become her new tailor, that things don't progress erotically as we might have expected them to do between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love). Instead, since Zhang is so virginal when he enters the room with her, arriving when she has been plainly servicing a male client, he gets an erection, she becomes his muse and obsession as a tailor.

In some scenes Zhang makes love to Miss Hua's dresses, caressing them with his steam iron, finally invading one of them with his exploring hand. After all, a tailored dress is the most intimate way of possessing a woman's body, and so the dressmaker is the beautiful woman's proxy lover, by his very nature. This film in part explores that possibility.

Years later when Zhang comes to see Miss Hua, now in sad decline and very ill, he says she is the reason why he became a tailor. She indeed told him at the outset his orgasm will inspire him whenever he works on her dresses. But because this is a Wong film there is more, because years later he has still not married ("no one wants me") and still longs for her.

But there's more than that. It's clear Zhang's boss, Master Jin (veteran actor Tien Feng) has held Miss Hua in high esteem. She was glamorous and highly paid. Or is it more likely he simply adored her beauty and her exquisite body and loved making dresses for her? So Zhang comes to her second hand, already just a bit past her prime, let us say (Gong LI was 41). But some women have just got it: the elegance, the attractiveness linger on, they are desirable at any age. This seems to be an assumption behind the story and behind the seeming assumption of both Master Jin and Zhang that whatever the status of this woman, there is an aura of the eternal feminine about her. (It's a demanding requirement for Gong Li. But she has it and even last year in Lou Ye's [url=""]Saturday Fiction[/url] she was still, at 54, glamorous and beautiful. The casting was right also for Zhang in Chang Chen, who's made to appear stiffer and plainer, naturally, than he really is as the repressed, desire-ridden young tailor, with the way his hair is combed and the mustache he has. In real life this Taiwanese actor, who will play Timothee Chalamet's mentor in the new Dune and has been important ever since the age of 14 when he played the lead in Edward Yang's 1991 coming of age classic A Brighter Summer Day - Wong's casts have always been who's whos of Chinese film stardom.

Zhang has a reprise of his first meeting when Miss Hua is ill, and weeping, perhaps moved by the fact that he so clearly still admires and desires her and she doesn't feel worth it anymore. The final scene between them is both sexy and heartbreaking, and played by both actors to the hilt. There's almost nothing like it. It's not fun, it's almost not even erotic, but it's very moving. Moving also is how Zhang covers for her in the final scene when he goes back and talks to Master jin about Miss Hua, who he says has left again. In this extended form, this is another Wong film that one can go back and watch over and over, finding new nuances and new beauties, new ways Wong has concealed layers of emotion.

This was shot during the making of 2046. While it was shooting, the company learned of the suicide of Leslie Cheung, a great chock and tragedy for Wong, for whom he had been both a key star and a real friend, and then there was the SARS epidemic and everything in Hong Kong went strangely, terrifyingly dead. It was a fraught time. But from that punishment this pearl emerged.

The Hand The Hand” / 愛神·手 2 ("Eros - Hand 2)), 56 mins., debuted (in its shortened form, first of the three) at Venice Sept. 10, 2004, also showing at Toronto, and later in a few other festivals. Warner Independent Pictures released the film in North American theaters Apr. 8, 2005, but in few cinemas with poor publicity, so it did not do well. All critics say only the Wong segment is worthwhile. Metascore for the anthology: 54%.


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