Friday, February 02, 2018

Till the End of the World: Love Never Dies, It Just Freezes Solid, Like a Popsicle

It might sound exotic, but Antarctica is not a romantic place. The temperatures regularly hover around negative sixty and the accommodations are pretty Spartan. Nevertheless, a man and a woman stranded on the icy continent will still manage to fall in love during the course of Wu Youyin’s Till the End of the Word (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

The rich but obnoxious Wu Fuchun had a ridiculous idea for an Antarctic luxury wedding agency. He is partly responsible for the crash that left them in the lurch, but Jing Ruyi will not have the luxury of guilt tripping him. The experienced polar scientist understands only too well the gravity of her broken leg. After the crash, Wu manages to find refuge for them in a remote cabin, but its stores of can goods and generator fuel is limited. Eventually, he will have to venture out in search of food, but if his misadventures turn fatal, it will just as surely kill Jing too.

TTEOTW is rightly billed as a romance, yet there is virtually no romancing in the entire film. Frankly, Wu and Jing are too busy trying to survive to spend much time gazing into each other’s eyes. Wu’s narrative, adapted from his own novel, is much more concerned with the one-darned-thing-after-another threats to life and limb, as well as the mental challenges of their extreme situation.

Technically, Till the End is a somewhat mixed bag. It really was filmed on location, spitting-distance from the South Pole. That meant many scenes often had to be iced on one take, but co-leads Yang Zishan and Mark Chao were up to the challenge, acing just abut all of their icy, windswept takes. Cinematographers Lai Yiu Fai and Lau Chi Fai fully capitalize on the expansive ice-shelf vistas. The opening plane crash sequence is also crazy enough to fit in Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain. Unfortunately, the CGI penguin is just a big, distracting mistake.

Yang and Chao really are terrific together. He totally transforms Wu from a nauseatingly shallow fuerdai-esque embarrassment into a gaunt and haunted shell of his former self, much more devoted to Jing’s survival than his own. Likewise, Yang’s portrayal of Jing’s slow, forgiving fade-away will rip your heart out. The makeup team also deserves tremendous credit for making them look alarmingly weathered, chapped, and frost-bite blackened. Chao and Yang are huge stars thanks to smash hits like So Young, but to their credit, they took a bit of a risk here, because there is nothing vain or remotely glamorous about their work as the ice-bound almost-lovers.

You could say Till the End is a movie romance for people who don’t like romance. It is unabashedly sentimental and emotive, but not at all “mushy.” Joe Hisaishi’s supportive, yet eerily distant score reinforces that fateful vibe (isn’t it time someone programmed a retrospective of his film work?). Given the production challenges, it is also one of the few boy-meets-girl movies that could spawn a genuinely interesting “making of” featurette. Recommended for fans of sweeping, destiny-driven dramas, Till the End of the World opens today (2/2) in New York, at the AMC Empire.