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Joy Shing gets enthralled in, uh, Enthralled.
Chinese: 愛尋迷  
Year: 2014
Director: Chip Tsao
Producer: Titus Ho Wing-Lam, Shirley Yung Sau-Lan
Writer: Chip Tsao
Cast: Kelvin Kwan Chor-Yiu, Tsui Tin-Yau, Christopher Goh, Candy Law, Mandy Lieu, Joy Shing Long-Hei, Cheung Kwok-Keung, Mimi Kung Tse-Yan, Zeno Koo, Carl Man Kwok-Jun, Michelle Loo, Yu Yen-Ping, Leung Tin, Michael Chugani
  The Skinny: Unwatchable drama that tackles abundant social issues using bad acting and worse melodrama. Enthralled would have been a better novel than movie, though the plot twists would still be hard to justify. Writer-director Chip Tsao might be able to write another screenplay, but he should leave the direction to someone else.
by Kozo:

Good writers don’t always make good filmmakers, and as proof there’s the thoughtful but unfathomable drama Enthralled, from columnist and all-around critic Chip Tsao a.k.a. To Kit. A noted pundit whose writings have sometimes caused controversy if not counter-criticism, Tsao has shown over the years that he has plenty to say, and Enthralled gives him a broad canvas on which to share his opinion on the general state of Hong Kong and its people. Spoiler: Things aren’t going well, and Tsao isn’t wrong in sharing his thoughts. What is wrong is how Tsao chooses to tell his story, which tries for significance but employs ridiculously soapy plot twists and questionable acting and directing. Enthralled is well-meaning and rich in local detail, but as an actual film it fails enormously. The silver lining: Um…I’ll let you know if I find one.

Enthralled’s story is a rambling repository of social issues and local history broken up by dramatic doozies and narrative clichés. Shing (Kelvin Kwan), Ka-Lok (Tsui Tin-Yau) and Adam (Christopher Goh) are three childhood friends who grew up in the shadow of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and have just reunited for the first time in Hong Kong as adults. While sitting in a bar, each dispenses precise exposition, reciting his own personal history as if reading from a casting call sheet. Before leaving the bar, Adam picks up Julie (Mandy Liew), a bored socialite whose much older husband (Yu Yen-Ping) is running for local office. Meanwhile, Shing spies rich divorcee Linda (Candy Law) and makes a quick connection. Is it for money or is it for love? Who knows or cares – she’s got the bank account and he’s got the virile young body and good grooming habits.

Shing gets Linda’s financial help to open his own hair salon, and soon forms a bond with Linda’s teenage son (Zeno Koo), whose awkwardness and proto-Justin Bieber hairdo signal certain alternative leanings. THEN IT ALL GOES TO HELL. Meanwhile, Ka-Lok teaches literature while wandering morosely around Hong Kong like he’s a haunted dude from a Troublesome Night film. Ka-Lok is searching for his long-lost father, who may be dead or disappeared, and that makes his moroseness nearly intolerable to himself and others. One of Ka-Lok’s mainland students, Snowy (Joy Shing), takes a shine to him, though he’s so morose that Rihanna could jump his bones and he probably wouldn’t stop reading that damn Sylvia Plath novel. Ka-Lok’s situation eventually slides into a morose personal hell, while Adam’s affair with Julie also leads to a form of perdition. Hell for the audience? It’s the movie they’re watching.

One reading of Enthralled, the title of which comes from a John Milton poem (Deep!), is that it metaphorically depicts the morally and emotionally compromised people of confused, broken Hong Kong, There’s thematic justification for these bad vibes, but Chip Tsao’s characters don’t evolve after being established as crappy people you wish you didn’t know. Liars and cheats dot the cast, and even the ones who are not so bad (like Ka-Lok) do questionable stuff that’s barely acknowledged. One option would be to satirize the characters, but each serves up whiny, self-serving monologues straight-faced. Is Tsao actually asking us to sympathize with these entitled bozos? Granted, we can use Hong Kong’s collective lousy experience to identify with nearly anyone the film throws at us, but because the characters pontificate about Hong Kong so obnoxiously, you simply don’t want to. Chip Tsao, we will not let you win.

The script’s attention to social issues does warrant notice. While some issues (rising rents, mainland tensions) are mentioned explicitly, others become effective background or character detail. Ka-Lok silently attends the June 4 Vigil (meant to honor those lost at the Tiananmen Square Massacre) alone, while on the same evening, Adam and Julie dance on a balcony oblivious to the thousands of candles lit below them in honor of the dead. There’s a real sense that these are Hong Kong people – though again, you wouldn’t want to know them. You’ll want to know them even less as the film progresses and each falls victim to out-there plot twists that scream “Gender! Sexuality! Morality! Death! Corruption! Kitchen sink!” Enthralled may start as a thoughtful drama but it ends up being a trashy melodrama par excellence. Throwing up your hands or yelling “WTF!” would be the proper response.

One could call Enthralled one of the year’s worst films but that would be an insult to the year’s actual worst films. This is a misguided work that might have been watchable had Chip Tsao gone super trashy (like Calvin Poon’s Hi, Fidelity) or over-the-top arty (like Yon Fan’s Colour Blossoms). Tsao opts instead for inert, awful filmmaking; cinematography is inconsistent, acting is stiff, political messages are transparent, visual effects are terrible (a green screen visit to Niagara Falls is unintentionally hilarious) and any eroticism is strictly PG-13. In one scene, a lingerie-clad Julie says to Adam as pillow talk: “You are globalization.” What the hell? Enthralled would have been a better novel than movie – it has concrete themes and characters ripe for inner monologues, and you know it couldn’t be any worse than the film version. You’ve always got your columns, Chip Tsao. To the audience: Your screensaver is much more enthralling. (Kozo, 8/2014)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
CN Entertainment Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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