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Strawberry Cliff

Strawberry Cliff     Strawberry Cliff

(left) Eason Chan, and (right) Leslie-Anne Huff in Strawberry Cliff.

Chinese: 贖命  
Year: 2010  
Director: Chris Chow
Producer: Lu Cien-Hioe, Lee Chi-Ngai, Matthew Tang Hon-Keung
Writer: Chris Chow
Cast: Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Leslie-Anne Huff, Roy Werner, Anthony Chaput, Antonella Monceau, David Oxley, Winston Yeh Ying-Wen
The Skinny: Eason Chan is OK in his English-language acting debut, and shows substantial presence. However, even if you're an Eason Chan fan, you may wish to avoid Strawberry Cliff.
by Kozo:
Strawberry Cliff means well and that's probably the nicest thing you can say about it. From director Chris Chow, a screenwriter on Blood: The Last Vampire and Fearless, Strawberry Cliff is a supernatural thriller/existential drama filled to bursting with metaphysical plot devices and film school sentimentality. Waitress Kate (Leslie-Anne Huff) possesses the power to predict the exact time of a person's death, which she shares with soon-to-be expiring customer Jason (Anthony Chaput). Kate tells Jason about his impending death in hopes that he'll send her a sign from the afterlife, the idea being that a metaphysical message will explain "what it's all about." Kate should have died as a child due to a rare heart defect, but here she is in her early twenties, serving up burgers and fries while telling people when they're going to meet the Grim Reaper. Kate just wants to know what's at the end of her particular rainbow.

She may get her answer. Jason expires as predicted, his death coming with a fleeting glimpse of a bald man who possesses the same skin problems as Darth Vader. Then Kate gets a phone call, but it's not from Jason – it's from Darren (Eason Chan), a bartender in Hong Kong who knows everything that Jason did. Kate travels to Hong Kong to meet Darren, where he reveals the film’s second supernatural plot device by spilling some salt and spelling "HIVE" in it with his finger. I'd explain more, but spoiler police and sanity preservation prevent it. Anyway, by then Strawberry Cliff has already alienated with its portentous pacing, amateurish acting and schmaltzy piano-and-strings score. Chris Chow offers an intriguing premise that could have worked for a horror film; Kate's ability to predict death would fit a Ring-like chiller, and some of the early sequences feature effective horror-like tension. Strawberry Cliff is obviously low budget, but in these initial moments, it does deliver promise.

Then the whole thing starts to deflate, each passing moment making the film more interminable and bewildering. Chris Chow's script leaves nothing unexplained – and the explaining is done not just through story beats but through reams and reams of mind-numbing dialogue. The action in Strawberry Cliff is mainly characters meeting up for chats, usually in bars, on park benches or sitting on guardrails. However, the characters aren't really talking - one person is usually telling their story or explaining the film's concepts while the other person says stuff like: "And?", "What did you do then?" and "Well, what did you think of that?" Characters in the film enable other characters' explicit expository speeches, thereby making sure that audiences understand the ideas, events, connections and themes that Chow is pushing. By the very end, someone explains what "Strawberry Cliff" means in as obvious, literal and painful a way as possible. Cringeworthy would be a polite adjective for all of this.

Acting is below average, but with one notable exception: Eason Chan is surprisingly fine in his English-language debut. His dialogue is as bad as everyone else's, but he sells his scenes through easy, natural presence. However, the real star is Leslie-Anne Huff, who's incredibly unnatural and appears rigid and laughably tense at the strangest of times. Throughout the film, her main expression is an eyes-widened, crinkled-brow look of apprehension, like someone next to her just sneezed without covering their nose and it is freaking her out. Chris Chow originally conceived Strawberry Cliff as an independent production before Hong Kong's Edko Films got involved, but the film might have benefitted from the in-the-trenches grit that indie filmmaking sometimes inspires. As is, Strawberry Cliff feels like a well-funded graduate thesis from a filmmaker who needs more maturation and experience before attempting an actual film. Everyone deserves second chances, so expletives are withheld. For now. (Kozo, 2011)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
English Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image credit: Edko Films Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen