Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Ann Hui’s Love After Love

The CCP refuses to admit Hong Kong was once a colony, because that would entitle it to special consideration under the rules of the United Nations. Of course, the UN is compliant, asking “how high” when the CCP says “jump.” Yet, the era recreated in Ann Hui’s latest film is as decadent and colonial as the bad behavior of British settlers dramatized in White Mischief. The main characters are not even British, but the scandalous Hongkongers definitely believe in doing things “the British way” in Hui’s Love After Love, which premieres Friday on MUBi.

Ge Weilong is bright, pretty, but not the least bit worldly. Nevertheless, the Shanghai native will approach her disgraced and disgraceful Aunt Liang, requesting shelter in her stately home, so she can finish her studies in Hong Kong. Essentially, Liang is a self-styled courtesan, who inherited the wealth of her late lover. She is still a player in colonial society, mostly for her own amusement (the carnal kind, first and foremost).

Recognizing Ge could be useful, Liang takes her in and slowly starts grooming her in the indulgent customs of colonial society. Ge is a better translator than her, but she is slow to pick up on all the gameplaying around her. In fact, she even falls in love with George Chiao, a playboy, who stands to inherit little from his wealthy father, due to the many other heirs in-line ahead of him, both legitimate and illegitimate.

The film looks lovely and the cast is all very pretty, including Eddie Peng as the caddish Chiao, but it is mostly surface beauty. Although adapted from an Eileen Chang novella,
Love After Love was probably envisioned as a film in the tradition of Dangerous Liaisons, but as a Chinese-approved production, it is never able to generate sufficient sexual heat. It is also problematically low on the scheming and manipulation. If you want to see a Republican Era take on Valmont and company, check out Hur Jin-ho’s Dangerous Liaisons instead.

Still, there are guilty pleasures to be found in
Love After Love, starting with Faye Yu Feihong’s seductive femme fatale turn as Madame Liang. Ma Sichun and the Taiwanese Peng are perfectly cast as the tragically mismatched Ge and Chiao. Unfortunately, they all really ought to have more to do during the film’s 140 minutes. The pace is languid, to give it a somewhat positive spin, but the great cinematographer Christopher Doyle makes it all look wonderfully lush and beautiful.

Obviously, there were a lot more Mainland cooks in the kitchen for
Love After Love, since it carries the China Film Commission dragon seal of [censorship] approval and was partially produced by Alibaba Pictures. That did not work in Hui’s favor, especially given the film’s subject matter. Her previous historicals, Our Time Will Come and The Golden Era have much more emotional heft and energetic pizazz. Hopefully, it is just a dip in a long and storied career, but Hong Kong cinema in general will likely experience a precipitous decline in quality while the CCP’s “National Security” Law remains in effect. A disappointment, Love After Love starts streaming Friday (3/18) on MUBi.