|In Forgive and Forget, it looks like director Patrick Kong is finally attempting something new. Or maybe not. A story of supernatural shenanigans, thorny young love, and more than a little duplicity, Forgive and Forget ditches the usual Kong leading lady, namely Stephy Tang, for hot Taiwanese model Alice Tzeng, best known for her supporting role in Jay Chou's Secret. Tzeng made a more impressive, but less widely-seen splash in Kong's earlier 2008 effort, L For Love, L For Lies, where she played a shrewish, backstabbing boyfriend-stealer. In Forgive and Forget, she's the victim and not the bad girl; Tzeng plays Jingjing (called Alice in the subtitles), a lovely Taiwanese girl beset by lost memories, the ghost of her ex-boyfriend, and maybe some human enemies too. Her biggest problem, however, could be Patrick Kong himself.
Forgive and Forget opens up with Jingjing's arrival back in HK following the death of her ex-boyfriend Wilson (singer Kelvin Kwan). Months ago, both got into accidents, she in Taiwan and he in Hong Kong. Wilson cashed in his chips while Jingjing ended up with a memory-sapping blood clot in her brain. Now she's back in Hong Kong to attend Wilson's memorial, but she also has a personal motive: to reclaim her lost memories of Wilson and their time together. She stays at Wilson's old apartment and digs through his belongings, which include numerous unsent and returned letters to Jingjing, each professing his ardent love for her. You see, there was an incident where Wilson two-timed Jingjing, leading to her retreating back to Taiwan. However, unknown to Jingjing, Wilson really regretted hurting her, and was rushing to get back together with her before his untimely death. Feeling that the letters are restoring her memory, Jingjing discovers that she's moved by Wilson's final confessions of love.
However, Jingjing's returned memories also come with some noticeably bizarre behavior. She starts switching between her native Mandarin and stilted Cantonese, plus she develops a penchant for wearing a deep red dress, making her look like a refugee from your standard Asian horror film. Her switch to a new wardrobe also comes with the occasional malevolent, haughty glare from Jinging - an expression that Alice Tzeng carries well - but what's the meaning of all this? Is Jingjing being haunted? She could be; Wilson's apartment is noticeably colder than it should be, and features a nightly chorus of giggling children noises to complement its grungy wood-and-metal interior design. Also, wet footprints appear on the floor, a toy ball zips around like it has a mind of its own, and Jingjing even sees visions of blood seeping from the bathtub. The big kicker: the dead Wilson drops by for a visit. Jingjing is obviously haunted or insane. Or, could there perhaps be a hidden conspiracy afoot relating to crappy relationships and bad boyfriends?
This is Patrick Kong, so the answer is pretty much "yes". If you've been following Kong's work, you would know that the writer-director has turned the phrase "love sucks" into his personal film industry. Kong's cynicism towards modern Hong Kong relationships has been celebrated before, accounting for his Best New Director nomination at the 2006 Hong Kong Film Awards, plus the popularity of his films with local youth. To distill the phenomenon into an unfair, wildly sweeping generalization: Hong Kong youth enjoy seeing themselves as victims in relationships, and are willing to view their partners as cruel or emotionally manipulative. Or, they entertain the ever-popular "backup lover" status as a way of offsetting their possible disappointment with committed love. Basically, young Hong Kong people enjoy whining about their love lives. Don't we all.
Patrick Kong knows this, having mined this unique culture of crappy relationships ad nauseum in all his hit films. Forgive and Forget may initially look like it's departing from his usual themes, but they turn out to be present right alongside the film's horror trappings. In the midst of her possible supernaturally-induced freak out, Jingjing starts to counsel downstairs neighbor Mandy (Miki Yeung, possibly reprising her role from L For Love, L For Lies), who's suffering in her eternal "backup lover" status. Also, Jingjing starts to learn that Wilson was a pretty big player, and may have had other women besides the ones she previously knew about. Her guide in finding out the truth is Wilson's buddy Andy (Andy On, dubbed by Dog Bite Dog director Soi Cheang), who also carries his own torch for Jingjing. Originally, both Wilson and Andy wanted to hook up with Jingjing, but Wilson - rat bastard that he was - struck first. Will Jingjing realize that she really belongs with the caring Andy? Or will she reaffirm her love with Wilson's constantly reappearing ghost?
Jingjing eventually makes a choice, but whether or not it matters to the audience is another question entirely. Kong manages to juggle his three storylines decently, but the details and development aren't terribly interesting, and Kong's discussion of modern relationships is now so familiar that it's practically an audience in-joke. Worse, the scary bits cease to be scary after about twenty minutes. Kong uses the standard Asian horror playbook - loud sounds, shock cuts, scary hair - but the techniques are used so frequently and to such minor effect that they lose their power. Instead, plot twists keep the film moving. Kong serves up a few prosaic revelations (usually involving duplicitous lovers) to up the interest, but when the climax finally rolls around, it feels like Forgive and Forget hasn't done very much. Old loves are reconciled, new loves affirmed, and some details (i.e., many of the horror ones) are conveniently forgotten. The general feeling at that point is one of mild diversion, if any.
But wait, this is a Patrick Kong film, which means one or two plot twists simply won't be enough. If the majority of Forgive and Forget feels uninteresting, that's because Kong has yet to pull out his biggest plot twists - that is, the ones that require loads of flashback and reams of droning exposition to explain. Kong intricately plots his stories, allowing for these "wow, aren't we clever" payoffs where the audience discovers what's what. However, even then the holes are too large to really ignore. While the majority of the horror film details do get explained, a great many are not, and seem to be disingenuous red herrings. Also, the last act revelation is only mildly interesting, because the previous two acts were so obviously artificial that they never hooked the audience. Kong's plot twists can be clever, but they also hurt his films, especially if the audience is aware of his usual modus operandi. Why should an audience try to get invested in Kong's stories if they know he's going to sucker punch them anyway? Kong needs a new trick, because this one is starting to get played out.
Still, Kong does manage some bitter poignancy in his denouement, and once again it's due to his obsession with crappy modern relationships. Even though much of Forgive and Forget is recycled - cheating spouses, backup lovers, elaborate chicanery by boyfriends or girlfriends - he does serve up some emotion that could resonate with his target audience. Kong's view of love is so resoundingly cynical that it's practically annoying, but there are still some surprising moments when his ideas ring true. Forgive and Forget does have such a moment.
Too bad that it comes at the end of a poorly-directed motion picture that's more annoying than it is successful. Kong's direction in Forgive and Forget is garish and shockingly unrefined, and his actors aren't very good either. Besides the average turns from Tzeng and On, the film boasts the year's most annoying supporting performances, from singer Siu Fay and girl group Hotcha, as Andy and Jingjing's friends. Kong has decent ideas, but as usual his execution - from storytelling to the direction of actors - seriously lacks. His films are still interesting simply from an expectation standpoint - that is, it's easy to get curious about what Patrick Kong will do this time. For those really interested in Hong Kong Cinema, those expectations are always worth discussing, regardless of whether or not the actual movie is any good. Forgive and Forget certainly qualifies, and remains noteworthy simply because it's a film by Patrick Kong.
But just in case an actual judgement on quality matters: sorry, the movie is really not that good. (Kozo 2008)