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A Secret Between Us

The Second Woman

Edward Ma and Angel Chiang share a secret beween them.

Chinese: 第一次不是你  
Year: 2013  
Director: Patrick Kong
Producer: Wong Jing
Writer: Patrick Kong
Cast: Edward Ma Chi-Wai, Angel Chiang Ka-Man, Sharon Chan Man-Chi, Lo Hoi-Pang, Elena Kong Mei-Yi, Kiki Sheung Tin-Ngor, Jerry Koo Ming-Wah, Dominic Ho Hou-Man, Evergreen Mak Cheung-Ching, Amanda Lee Wai-Man, Jacqueline Chong Si-Man, Bob Lam, Anjaylia Chan Ka-Po, Shiga Lin Si-Nga, Jason Chung, Jinny Ng Yeuk-Hei, Kathy Yuen
The Skinny: Patrick Kong's romantic drama tries to be touching but succeeds at being misguided and kind of creepy instead. If you're going to use prostitution and gang rape to prop up a true love tale, you better be a pretty good director. Patrick Kong is not. Entertaining for all the wrong reasons.
by Kozo:
Low-rent auteur Patrick Kong expands his range for the self-described tearjerker A Secret Between Us, and the result is as trashy and entertainingly bizarre as his cynical romcoms. Kong’s foray into tearjerking comes with understandably manipulative goals like heart-tugging emotions and tissue shortages. This is the story of a boy and a girl and how their pure young love went awry due to unfortunate circumstance, miscommunication and youthful naiveté. Such stories are cinema staples, and given Patrick Kong’s obsession with cynical love, one can see how a few postmodern tweaks to the tearjerker formula might yield a workable genre entry. However, A Secret Between Us also features sordid and rather ugly content, which it uses merely as support for its bittersweet musings on love found, lost, found again and then maybe lost again. Overall this is a strange bit of commercial filmmaking that entertains mostly because it’s so tone-deaf. Said entertainment is most definitely of the guilty variety.

Former childhood sweethearts Bobo (TVB player Angel Chiang) and Ken (Edward Ma) meet accidentally after many years apart. She’s now married and jetting to-and-from Hong Kong, while he’s engaged and works in a Mongkok hair salon. Their initial meeting betrays a lingering affection between the two, and as they spend the day together, pieces of their past bubble to the surface. Cue flashback: Bobo’s mother (Elena Kong, in the film’s best performance) suffered from kidney disease, so Bobo resolved to earn the required money for a black market kidney purchase. After a cautious recommendation from experienced neighbor Wendy (Sharon Chan), Bobo turned to prostitution, and Ken naively agreed to cheer her on. He even styled her hair for her first day on the job and walked her to work like a loving boyfriend should. Too bad he took her to be a prostitute. Seriously, filmmakers, what gives with this story? And why doesn’t anyone think to donate their own kidney rather than obtain one via the sex trade and the black market?

Superficially, Patrick Kong does OK here, employing a faux-neorealist style and a washed-out color palette in what must be his approximation of artful filmmaking. He also uses flashbacks-within-flashbacks; the film jumps from the present to 1995 to 2003 and back again with regularity, and there are decent coming-of-age nuggets dispensed throughout. As a screenwriter, Kong excels at snarky dialogue and he gets a few opportunities to strut his stuff. However, when the heavy drama comes to the fore, Kong whiffs big time. Dialogue is ham-handed, and depth is provided by labored moments such as one exchange between a young Bobo and her father (Lo Hoi-Pang) where he lets her taste beer. She comments on how bitter it is and he responds with, “It can’t be more bitter than our lives.” That actually may be one of the more subtle lines in the film, as most other dialogue involves characters explaining exactly what’s happening. This genre may be new for Patrick Kong, but he’s using a lot of his old tricks.

The big problem is that the film’s content feels, for lack of a better word, icky. This is a tearjerking romance about missed chances that uses prostitution and a disturbingly implied gang rape as story props. The main premise – former sweethearts reunite and reminisce about where it all went wrong – is fine in eleven words, but when you add in the sordid content and the maddening idiocy of its main characters (when Bobo tells him she is going to become a prostitute, Ken asks, “Is it dangerous?”), you have one of the most bewildering movies of the year. A Secret Between Us might convince if it offered commentary or satire on the stupidity and arrogance of modern youth, but Patrick Kong plays it straight and expects to hit you right in the feels. The film seems to say that Bobo and Ken are unfortunate and that we should care if they’re able to reconnect, even though they’re already in committed relationships. Sorry Patrick Kong, but they aren’t unfortunate or really likeable. They’re just incredibly stupid and so inanely naïve that it’s mindboggling.

If you’re a Kong devotee who enjoys his trashy tales of infidelity and romantic chicanery, no need to worry – he’s got you covered here. The film’s PG-13 sex, complete with heavy petting and side boob exposure, serves the burgeoning Lan Kwai Fong audience, though it also makes the characters even more unlikeable. Angel Chiang should be commended for her relatively daring performance, and Edward Ma recites Patrick Kong’s dialogue with a straight face, so he’s got skills. Really, this may be the most bizarre and reprehensible movie of the year – though it might have worked better had the filmmakers been more exploitative. Spice up the same story with naked kickboxing, over-the-top gore and pink Polo shirts, and you could have a modern update of Escape from Brothel. Such filmmaking would be over-the-top and completely offensive, but hey, at least it would be honest. As is, A Secret Between Us purports to be a touching and bittersweet tearjerker, but the audience should know better. That’s why they’re either laughing or not in attendance at all. (Kozo, 9/2013)

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