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The Poet

Stephen Fung and Ayako Morino in The Poet.
Year: 1998
Director: Casey Chan Lai-Ying
Cast: Stephen Fung Tak-Lun, Theresa Lee Yi-Hung, Ayako Morino
The Skinny: Stephen Fung plays gifted poet Gu Cheng, whose self-destructive tendencies manage to take down other people, too. Based on a true story, which just goes to show how damn stupid people are in real life.
by Kozo:
     Atmospheric but unfulfilling drama about real-life poet Gu Cheng (Stephen Fung), who was a voice of his (70's-80's) generation. The film details his rise in the literary circles as he impresses the intelluctuals with his astonishingly deep verse which, unfortunately, doesn't really seem so when subtitled into English. The rest of his story is easily translatable, however. Like many great artists before him, Gu Cheng was also a tortured genius who abused himself and others for his art. Or, you could say that he was a total nutbag who abandoned his son, hurt his wife Reimi (Theresa Lee), and never made any real money to support his family. He also engaged in a torrid affair with Ching-Er (Ayako Morino), his eventual live-in mistress, and pretty much alienated everyone around him through his pride and self-indulgence. Yes, it's the curse of all artists. Don't you just want to slap them?
      It's probably unfair for me to review this film as I have no actual knowledge of Gu Cheng or his work, and thus cannot accurately weigh his merits as an artist against his deficiencies as a human being. Gu Cheng has been called the "Van Gogh of the East", though he didn't cut off an ear. Instead, he killed his own wife. Quite frankly, it's tough to be sympathetic for someone who treats his family in such a terrible manner, even if they are extremely talented. Not helping matters is Stephen Fung's performance as Gu Cheng, which is suitably intense and mannered, but without any recognizable emotional core. Our inability to see into his performance makes his character even more distant. Theresa Lee is put into the role of a suffering wife, which does little for her usual winning screen presence. For those who seek out nudity, Japanese import Ayako Morino does disrobe on occasion. Her performance shows some life, but the character itself lacks any real edges.
     As a simple cinematic drama, I would probably not recommend The Poet as the characters are neither engaging or wholly identifiable. The most likely audience reaction to the film would be one of despair over the characters' guaranteed unhappy fates; this is usually not a reason I would ever tell anyone to see a movie. On the other hand, my lack of familiarity with the subject matter makes my opinion somewhat invalid. There are probably some who may find the journey worth checking out as elucidation on the life of a favored artist. However, others will probably be lost and willing to jump off a cliff by The Poet's end. The film is interesting viewing, but it's likely to be inaccessible and unfulfilling for the casual viewer. (Kozo 1998/2000)
image courtesy of The Hong Kong Film Critics Society Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen