Based on a famous novel by Eileen Chang, director Ann Hui’s latest is a fable
about class prejudices and the ironies of fate. Wu Chien-Lien
is Manjing, whose budding romance to Shijun (Leon Lai) is
ill-fated. Among other things, her mother thinks he’s too
slow, his parents don’t like her class status, and her sister
(Anita Mui) has other plans for her. Anita’s rich husband
(Ge You of Farewell My Concubine and To Live)
fancies Manjing, and wants to add her to his collection, too
Eighteen Springs is an interesting but somewhat
muted drama. As the subject matter would indicate, the film
suffers from “Chinese Film” disease, meaning a frustrating
spiral of ill fortune meant to indict the rigid mores of Chinese
society. Ann Hui manages to corral the best from her actors
and treats the material with a respect bordering on reverence.
Anita Mui has a fine star turn here, but appears far too little.
The character of Shijun seems written for Leon Lai. He's a
subdued, backward man who has problems showing his emotions.
The real star of the film is Wu Chien-Lien, whose performance as the noble,
conflicted Manjing is the centerpiece of the film. This is
a rare character for any actress to take on, and Wu is affecting
and genuine. She was nominated for Best Actress at the 1997
HK Film Awards, but she unfortunately lost to Maggie Cheung
in The Soong Sisters. Anita Mui managed to snag the
Best Supporting Actress award. (Kozo 1998)