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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

My Baby’s Got a Secret

Secret

If you never got around to seeing Jay Chou’s 2007 directorial debut,  I would advise you not to read this post because I’m going to be divulging the big mystery of the film (or at least, what the mystery isn’t), and I wouldn’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who’s actually interested in seeing the movie on their own. If you’re curious to know more about the movie, I’d strongly advise reading Kozo’s review over at LoveHKFilm.com. It’s an accurate appraisal that goes out of its way not to spoil the film for you.

Now before I get into serious spoiler territory, I’ll begin by saying that I was pleasantly surprised by Jay Chou’s work as a director here. I liked the film while I was watching it, and the more I thought about the movie, the more I like it — even though the plot holes just kept adding up for me. For some odd reason, the film’s failure to live up to its own rules doesn’t annoy me terribly, although I’ll have to admit that I was disappointed in the ending — serviceable, but not quite what I was hoping for.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Here’s the story in the shortest terms possible: On his first day at Tanjiang Art School, Jay (played, naturally, by Jay Chou) meets Rain (played by the wonderful Guey Lun-Mei), a playfully flirtatious, yet totally innocent young woman who, not surprisingly, captures our hero’s heart. They embark on a chaste romance, but she’s got a secret. No, she’s not a dude. This ain’t The Crying Game (or a certain personal fave HK movie that will remain nameless).

Now, with a title like Secret, one can’t help but try to guess what the titular secret might be. Go into a movie like The Sixth Sense not knowing there’s a twist, and you’re likely to sit back and just enjoy the ride. See the movie after considerable word-of-mouth has been spread regarding the film’s twist, and you’re likely to figure it all out in the first reel (BRUCE WILLIS HAS BEEN DEAD FOR MOST OF THE MOVIE! Sorry, couldn’t resist). But even with the foreknowledge that there’d be some kind of narrative shenanigans at work here, I have to admit that I couldn’t guess the twist.

One thing that I really liked about Secret was the way in which it toys with the audience’s expectations, as it initially pretends to be a terminal illness tearjerker — the typical boy meets girl, girl has an incurable disease, girl dies, and audience cries. Lame, right? But the signs are all there, Rain always disappears mysteriously (she’s going to the doctor!), seems to get special treatment from the professors (aw, they feel sorry for her!), and suffers from asthma (well, actually…). People in Korean movies have died for less, my friend. But luckily for the audience, that’s not what happens at all. Mr. Chou has something else up his sleeve.

So with the terminal illness angle scrubbed, your mind starts wandering. And for a few minutes there, I am pretty certain Secret wants you think that it’s — wait for it – a ghost story! In a slight variation on the “Phantom Hitchiker” urban legend, it turns out that none of Jay’s classmates ever saw Rain, that he was doing “the twist” (the dance, not the narrative device) with absolutely no one at the big school dance, and — wouldn’t you know it? — Rain’s been dead for years. Oh snap! We got some Sixth Sense sh%$ going down now!

To cap the supernatural angle off, Rain suddenly disappears at one point and Jay suddenly gets a spooky “I love you” message scrawled on his desk by an invisible writer, seemingly confirming that she’s a ghost. I have to admit that at this point I was pretty disappointed that this was the secret. I have seen enough Japanese and Korean schoolgirl ghost movies to last me a lifetime; I didn’t need a Chinese one. Thankfully, this “secret” turned out to be a red herring, too.

Here’s the secret, folks. Are you ready?

Secret 02

 It turns out that Rain is from twenty years in the past, and she came to the future via a magical piano.

Okay, I know that sounds terrible, but it works — kind of. I won’t get into all the details, but for the film’s “secret” to work, the audience simply cannot ask too many questions. First of all, why wouldn’t Jay tell at least one person about Rain? Y’know, something like “Hey, I met this girl…blah blah blah.” I mean, I know Jay Chou’s acting borders on comatose sometimes, but his character couldn’t be THAT reticent, could he? There are other little things, but I think the biggest gripe I have is the ending, which features a pretty exhilarating piano playing scene (no, really) as a lead-in to the finale.

The problem I have with that ending is that it makes little emotional or logical sense. Let’s take the last thing first. The movie operates under certain rules. First of all timing. Rain shouldn’t be there. One can assume from her reaction that she has no idea who Jay is, so through “THE POWER OF LOVE” (”It’s a curious thing. Make one man weep, another man sing,” but I digress) he was able to go back in time before she even started playing the piano. I can infer this, but I would’ve preferred that the film would’ve spelled this out a little bit better. I guess playing faster makes you go back further in time, but I don’t remember whether or not this is stated in the film itself.

But leaving that quibble aside, here’s the kicker, not only do Jay and Rain pose for a class photograph, but Jay has an old-fashioned haircut. Both of these details leads one to believe that he is visible to everyone else as well, which was not the case for Rain when she traveled to the contemporary time period. Why would Jay bother to get rid of his stylish ‘do if no one but Rain can see him? This violates the film’s own rules — unless of course, this is another “Power of Love” thing. I honestly don’t know.

I wouldn’t really give a damn about it if the movie had actually delivered a more satisfying ending emotionally. It just ends so abruptly. Don’t directors know the implications of the word “climax”? Shouldn’t we go out on a high note (ah, a musical reference) instead of a thud? Where’s the passion? I know the “new rules” of the ending deny us this, but a scene in-between the reunion and the school photo would’ve sufficed.
Ending aside, I did like the movie a lot. I especially loved Guey Lun-Mei’s performance — she’s even better after the secret was revealed. The actress is the reason why I don’t really care about the plot holes, and she’s also probably the biggest reason to see the film, aside from the scenery and the swell music (I like the “You Got Served!” scene on the piano immensely). Anthony Wong is delightful as Jay’s father and the principal of the school who has a long-forgotten connection to Rain. The dancing scene and the guitar scene had me laughing quite a bit. And despite my joshing of Jay Chou’s limited acting range, I have to say he presents himself here as a very likable fellow, and his somewhat removed acting style  seems to mostly work for the character. I’m eager to see his next directorial project, whatever and whenever that may be — I’m not sure we need another Kung Fu Dunk and The Treasure Hunter. Supposedly Secret 2 3-D (!)was in development for a 2011 release, but I have no further information on whether that project is still happening. In the meantime, maybe I should dig out my Secret soundtrack and give it a listen. (2007/2011)

 

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