Hong Kong Cinema gets
some much-needed indie representation with Breeze
of July, an HD Video feature marking the directorial
debut of Stanley Tam, recently acclaimed for his work
as an editor on Pang Ho-Cheung's Exodus. The
film shuttles between Hong Kong and Shanghai to tell
the tale of 29 year-old Lan-Xin (Monie Tung), who moves
back into her old family home in Tokwawan after the
death of her mother. The move gives her an opportunity
to reconnect with family friend Auntie Lan (Koo Kam-Wah),
as well as rekindle her friendship with childhood pal
Big Head (Sammy). The move marks the latest of many
for Lan-Xin, who's in debt to some shady figures, but
her main reason for moving around may simply be that
she has yet to fully mature, opting to leave various
episodes in her life unfinished or abandoned.
In returning to her old home,
Lan-Xin begins to reflect on her wayward life, noting
that she has never traveled overseas with her mother,
and perhaps did not know her very well at all. Lan-Xin
ultimately retraces her mother's footsteps, traveling
back to her mother's original Shanghai neighborhood
along with Auntie Lan. The visit is highlighted by Auntie
Lan's tearful reunions with old friends, and Lan-Xin
makes some small personal discoveries as she quietly
immerses herself in her mother's previous environments.
Her journey in the film is internal, and given the narrative's
lack of urgency or action, the film's success seems
to hinge heavily on the performance from Monie Tung.
She acquits herself decently considering the inert nature
of the film, never overplaying the part even when given
opportunities to do so.
However, Tung still has difficulty
channeling the proper inner life for her character.
The actress is never vacant, but as the film's drama
is dependent on her inner emotions, Tung needs to be
able to carry the film wordlessly, which she struggles
to do. Not helping her is the fact that Lan-Xin is not
fully fleshed out. We learn a lot about her through
her voiceover, plus her interaction with Big Head, but
even more information about her life would have helped.
What does she do for a living? Who are her other friends?
Stanley Tam's screenplay has proper dramatic themes,
but it lacks additional details that would create a
more convincing or affecting reality. Without extra
knowledge of conflicts or events that helped define
her character, Lan-Xin simply seems to be dour and even
remote. Monie Tung has turned in some effective supporting
performances in My Mother is a Belly Dancer and Whispers and Moans, but as Breeze of July's
lead, she seems to be a bit out of her depth.
Sammy Leung is likable and
solid as romantic interest Big Head, though his character
is underwritten too, and seems to have little function
besides conscience/facilitator for Lan-Xin's personal
growth. Even more, he simply doesn't look like a guy
who would be hanging out on street level Tokwawan,
as he still possesses that primped up media star sheen.
The film's style is observational and contemplative,
giving the audience space to involve themselves in
the film's slow, realistic-seeming events. However,
the actors are not able to create the reality necessary
for the film to truly become exceptional, and resemble
screenwriting creations more than real characters.
The film is full of details that are meant as emotional
devices - burnt-out lightbulbs indicating loss, demolished
trees representing the passing of memory - but those
details are rather obvious. Despite the film's street-level
approximation of living, breathing Hong Kong, much
of the film still feels calculated.
Where the film does succeed
is in its simple environments and appreciable indie
film feel. The HD Video image is well-utilized, possessing
decent depth of field, and Tam's technique is frequently
effective, with many long takes, slow pans, and obscured
POV giving the film a sense of realistic intimacy.
At the same time, the way in which characters interact
seems too set up, as if they aren't speaking as much
as they're channeling screenwriter intent. Breeze
of July could use some spontaneity or true surprise;
the film's revelations are less felt than they are
acknowledged, such that events only plod steadily
towards an expected outcome. There's thought and feeling
in the film, and Stanley Tam uses his limited resources
well. Breeze of July was shot in only 10 days
on a shoestring budget, and is a decent achievement
considering what Tam had to work with. However, a
good portion of that achievement is simply related
to scale; Breeze of July is a respectable independent
feature that feels sincere, but it's not really a
standout work. Perhaps Stanley Tam will one day achieve
more when given fewer limits. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2007)