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Lover's Discourse

Lover's Discourse

Karena Lam and Eason Chan talk a little about love in Lover's Discourse.

Chinese: 戀人絮語  
Year: 2010
Director: Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Jimmy Wan Chi-Man
Producer: Pang Ho-Cheung
Writer: Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Jimmy Wan Chi-Man
Cast: Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Kay Tse, Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Jacky Heung Cho, William Chan Wai-Ting, Carlos Chan Ka-Lok, Kit Chan Kit-Yee, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Mavis Fan Hsiao-Shuan, Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai (voice only)
The Skinny: It doesn't really say that much, but the package is a quality one. Lover's Discourse has much to appreciate, including a fine cast, identifiable emotions and some decent pop-art style. A fine debut for directors Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan.
by Kozo:
Four-story drama Lover's Discourse treads familiar ground, and features a diverse Chinese cast playing individuals afflicted, troubled or perhaps obsessed by love. Notice I didn't say "enamored." Directed by Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan, and produced by Pang Ho-Cheung, Lover's Discourse is a cynical little look at love, where it's sometimes framed fondly, but never in a way that posits the "love conquers all" mantra that cinema has long been partial to. Maybe this is just how Hong Kong views romance; in recent years, director Patrick Kong has made romantic negativity his bread-and-butter with his popular and also terribly directed "Love" movies. However, Tsang and Wan improve upon Kong's shoddy filmmaking, offering stylish direction to go along with an intriguing, eclectic cast and a well-observed script. The material inside may be familiar, but the package is a quality one.

Lover’s Discourse starts with seemingly disconnected stories, but as the film progresses they become increasingly intertwined. Hong Kong Cinema regulars Eason Chan and Karena Lam star in the first segment, about casual lovers involved with other people. The two meet one evening on a crowded Causeway Bay corner and go about a mundane yet incisive date, filled with musings and touchstones on dating and intimacy. Long conversations and a meandering plot characterize this first segment, the actors given breathing room that allows them to inhabit roles rather than simply recite lines. That’s great when your actors are Eason Chan and Karena Lam; each possesses a personality that’s identifiable, and even when their words don’t mean much, it appears as if something is being said. Just like it is for these would-be lovers, the value here is in the time spent and not what explicitly happens.

Segment two digs into unrequited love with the tale of a laundromat worker (singer Kay Tse) who fantasizes about one of her customers (Taiwan heartthrob Eddie Peng). She collects objects pilfered from the clothes he drops off for cleaning, and daydreams of spending time with him, with her dreams reflecting quirky, frequently funny movie tropes. However, in her dreams the object of her affection is not the real Eddie Peng, but an Eddie Peng-lookalike mannequin. The symbolism is easy to parse; the lover in the young woman’s dream is an imagined facsimile of the real-life person, the idea being that imagined fantasy is ultimately easier to deal with than reality. That meaning isn’t expressed - rather, it’s implied through Tse’s funny fantasies, her engaging performance and the final moments, which imply that such ardent one-sided love is transitory. This segment echoes Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, though with far more whimsy.

Segment three increases the connections among the stories. Jacky “Son of actor-producer-triad Charles” Heung plays Po, who recalls his younger days when he looked like William “Boyfriend of Charlene Choi” Chan and was friends with Carlos “was in some other movie” Chan, who’s playing a younger version of Eddie Peng's character (Whew!). Po is enamored of his friend's mom (singer Kit Chan), his affection understood through lingering gazes, slight body language and oodles of subjective POV. Such attraction seems doomed, but Po has an ace up his sleeve - her husband (Eric Tsang) may be fooling around, and he could always let the info slip. More so than the others, this third segment creates smart tension, using body language and unspoken gazes rather than plot twists or dialogue. Indeed, for much of Lover's Discourse, Tsang and Wan go for visual storytelling, creating their ideas and emotions through film language rather than their screenplay, and their choices pay off.

It also helps that Peter Kam handles the score. The prolific composer does a superlative job here, with his music carrying the film through its rougher patches. The fourth segment could use the help; its tale is labored thanks to its forgone conclusion and needlessly protracted action. The segment features Jacky Heung and Mavis Fan as two unrelated individuals who join forces to tail their romantic partners, suspecting – of course – that both are being unfaithful. The two conduct their alliance through Internet chat and then shadowy chase, crossing over with characters from previous segments while Kam's music assertively accompanies every step, suspicion and emotional discovery. Kam isn't the only key contributor; Charlie Lam handles the gorgeous imagery, sometimes mediated in post into a scratchy, grainy grindhouse look that's meant to convey the cacophony and chaos of love. Or maybe it just looks cool, and has no real meaning at all. You can decide the answer yourself – you're probably not wrong.

Ultimately, Lover's Discourse doesn’t conclude nor overtly reveal. The film offers different looks at love, but when everything is filtered down, the assembled wisdom could probably be summed up in two or three sentences. The screenplay lacks true complexity or surprise, and only provides facets – scenes, if you will – from fragile and usually doomed relationships. The feelings left are fleeting, bitter and sometimes bittersweet, but not really lasting. As such, Lover’s Discourse only skims the surface of what it attempts to explore. Is that a fault? Not entirely. Those looking for meatier, tougher explorations of love may find this too slight, but those who enjoy a well-made and well-observed look at love in the big city may find this to be a treat. Even more, the film offers something that Hong Kong Cinema fans desperately need: hope for the future. Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan show promise with their first feature, and that’s more than enough to give this film a solid recommendation. For a pop-art Hong Kong movie, Lover’s Discourse does just fine. For a debut work, it excels. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2010)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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image credit: Hong Kong Asian Film Festival Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen