Tuesday, September 26, 2017

HK Cinema at SFFS ’17: 77 Heartbreaks

Break-up are often measured numerically. There are fifty ways to leave your lover and ten things I hate about you. The underappreciated Eva Lui comes up with seventy-seven reasons to dump Adam Cheung’s sorry butt. He will read them for himself when he comes across her journal in Herman Yau’s 77 Heartbreaks (trailer here), which screens during the San Francisco Film Society’s annual Hong Kong Cinema series.

Lui understood Cheung had family issues, so she cut him a lot of slack. To antagonize his father, Cheung quite his job as a solicitor, becoming a kick-boxing instructor instead. Yet, one day, Lui up and leaves. This deeply depresses Cheung, but he doesn’t do any real soul searching over it. In fact, he passively falls into a relationship with Mandy, a love-struck student. As it happens, she will be the first to read Lui’s “77 Heartbreaks” journal, a volume purchased from the mysterious Heartbeat Shutter store. There almost seems to be a bit of magic to it. Regardless, it crystallizes Lui’s thoughts and gives Mandy fair warning.

Arguably, the various Chinas are becoming the world’s leading producer of rom-coms. Seriously, when was the last a Hollywood relationship comedy justified its space on a hard-drive? However, despite its rom-com elements, 77 Heartbreaks is neither very rom or com. Instead, Erica Li’s adaptation of her own novel is more of a tragedy and a withering indictment of male complacency. Although, in all honesty, there are not going to be a lot of guys willing to defend Cheung, who rather revoltingly, backs into a relationship with a woman just as attractive as Lui and even more eager to make it work, yet he treats her like dirt.

Strong and sensitive, Charlene Choi is terrific as Lui, while you could say Pakho Chow fully commits as an actor, making Cheung as self-centered and un-self-aware as could ever be humanly possible. However, Michelle Wai’s achingly vulnerable performance as Mandy will really make the audience want to line up to beat Cheung with their soap wrapped in their towels, in the manner of Full Metal Jacket. Not surprisingly, veteran Anthony Wong steals a few scenes as Lui’s boss, Solicitor Pak and Kara Hui cranks up the grace and dignity as Lui’s mother. Yet, the film’s secret trump card is Francis Ng as Shutter, the eccentric but profoundly humane photographer and silent partner in Heartbeat Shutter.

You have to give Yau and Li credit for never taking the easy way out. This isn’t like a slightly disappointing day for Bridget Jones. It is about coming to terms with the disappointments of life and the mortality of loved ones. Wisely, they also refrain from counting down every last heartbreak, concentrating on the general trajectory of the relationship instead. Considerably deeper than it looks, 77 Heartbreaks is recommended for fans youth dramas and break-up films like Singles, when it screens this Saturday (9/30) as part of the SFFS’s Hong Kong Cinema.