Perhaps Love

Perhaps Love


Reviewed by: Chris

Have you ever gone over a scene in your life, and wished you could edit the choices, edit the words... edit the result. Take pieces from the cutting room floor and just make things work out differently?

A recurring theme in Perhaps Love is the transitory nature of being noticed. Being recognised. Even being loved. Is the person who loves you most, as our protagonists frequently affirm, yourself? We all search to be the star of the movie that is our life. Yet when we succeed, do we end up estranged? A diva whose memoirs are ghost-written. Doing it all yourself can be too much and still not enough.

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Perhaps Love opens with snowflakes falling to a wet street below. Sepia-lit, almost unreal. Cut to a warm bus interior. Check out the lives behind passengers’ faces. One will have a child that becomes a star. Does that make her special? Our narrator is revealed as a passenger. He is part of a film editing crew and when he retrieves footage from the garbage, it provides a second chance to get the right cut. When he gets off the bus, his inner world – or the film he’s working on – comes alive. Sudden lush colours. Full-on musical. Snowflakes belching from the upper story machine.

This Shanghai ‘Moulin-Rouge-on-steroids’ quickly becomes awe-inspiring and exasperating in equal measure. Some songs sound like Andrew Lloyd Webber on an off-day. Stories are laced together with juddering flashbacks and flashforwards, and one character habitually stays awake after taking sleeping pills. I was wondering if I’d need Red Bull to get through it.

Yet every shot, all of them very short, seems composed of enough heart-stopping beauty and perfection to make you gasp. Instead of pausing to milk each scene for all it’s worth, director Peter Chan takes us through this giddying montage at well over the speed limit.

It’s a dizzying world of cinematic excess, and some people will give up long before you have time to catch your breath and wonder what the point is or piece together the plot.

But persist! It’s worth it. A bit like going to a massive party, getting blind drunk, and realising next day you fell in love somewhere along the line and it just might be important.

Perhaps Love is endlessly inventive and technically impressive. From visual crispness of jazz dancing in the rain to clever sound balance that makes an underwater snog believable. It could appeal to wider audiences by lengthening some of its most charismatic scenes, but to do so would undermine its conceptual strength. It may not be the easiest of experiences for many Western audiences, but nevertheless it’s a gem to treasure.

In case you had the temerity to walk in late, or be distracted finding a place to put your popcorn, let me fill you in on some details.

Story No.1. A musical is being made by respected art film director, Nie Wen (Jacky Cheung). Starring his glamorous hottie, Sun Na (nickname, Monkey). No one knows her showgirl past. Or that, 10 years ago, when they were both poor, she broke the heart of now successful actor, Lin (Takeshi Kaneshiro). She dumped Lin to pursue fame and has now got it. Champagne and bright lights contrast, confusingly at times, with threadbare apartments and instant noodles. Lin, like a ghost from the past, is offered a part in her movie. Although the role is beneath him, he takes it just to get to Sun Na (Xun Zhou).

Next, the plot of the film-within-a-film. A girl has lost her memory on joining the circus. A childhood sweetheart wants to bring it back. A ringmaster can put scenes back in people’s lives when they’ve made the wrong choice. All charmingly incestuous plots, and an excuse for quick, high-production song-and-dance routines, acrobatics, and scenes of an emotional nature. Where tears will fall in slow-mo with drifting snowflakes.

If you lose track, don’t worry. One of the clever things about Perhaps Love is you’ll probably get misty-eyed in all the right places anyway. Like being hit with a sledgehammer and waking up to find you’re in the arms of the girl you loved from high-school all along, you don’t even care how you got there. You’re just pleased that she’s holding you and gazing into your eyes. Sun Na has eyes worth getting hit with a sledgehammer for. But things have just got too grown-up and complex for completely cheesy endings. Any well-worn tropes have been given new life. It’s showbiz time.

There are poetic parallels within Perhaps Love that work well. Artistic integrity, ideal love, and the glamorous film-within-a-film on one hand. Vs. the Man with the Money, real life jealousy, and one’s own ultimately unedited (or unedifying) life.

Can someone make ‘tiny’ alterations in a contract? A fat producer responds, offering ‘tiny’ alterations in the pay-cheque. Say, crossing out a mere zero or two. What is success? An almost forcible seduction between East and West. “Who’s going to watch the films made here!” Sun Na asks. But the American drives off sealing his electric car windows against his one night stand, oriental PR’s, clawing hands.

Perhaps Love was showered with innumerable awards at home. But it has been largely passed over in the foreign market. The film is a worthy find at the 2009 Edinburgh Dance Film Festival. Although Bollywood-inspired dance scenes are edited for MTV-style impact rather than drawing attention to the brilliance of the dance.

Time, like memory and Dali’s melting clock, is a strange concoction. As hours pass between seeing the film and finishing this review, my recollection of bits I dislike fades to grey. The cacophony of fast edits and hard-to-follow story. Instead, scenes of great beauty that I loved float to the surface and somehow seem more important. The immortal look on Sun Na’s face as she accepts a bound copy of her memoirs. I don’t know if Mastercard could pay for that, but with the film’s immediacy gone, selected images continue to haunt me.

Most of Perhaps Love’s 107 minutes replicate stream-of-consciousness. An impossibly large amount of detail. From that, we select as in real life, moments we judge to be salient. It is the way we make sense of the world. Only near the end of the film do we have moments of gentler reflection, to see an overall pattern that fits our emotional journey. And the best song of the film. Choices are made, life is what it is. It’s a ‘wrap.’

Reviewed on: 23 May 2009
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Complex relationships develop between cast and crew members working on a musical.
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Director: Peter Chan

Writer: Oi Wah Lam, Raymond To

Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Xun, Jackie Cheung, Jin-hee Ji, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng Kwan Yue

Year: 2005

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: China, Malaysia, Hong Kong


Dancefilm 2009

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