Tempting Heart

Reviewed by YTSL

Amidst the cries and complaints of some fans about the Hong Kong movie industry currently being in its death throes (my particular sense is that while these are not its golden years, life -- and some good movie-making -- is still going on), the amount of positive publicity for this late 1999 movie was quite astounding.  Small wonder then that not long after its release, (probably bootleg) copies of this Sylvia Chang film have already made their way half-way across the world.  Hence my decision to check out a version of suspect visual quality; what with its having sometimes cropped subtitles and faded colors (the latter of which I am not sure are actual artistic devices or just technical impurities).

Sylvia Chang on the set
Thankfully unlike the (over)hyped "A Man Called Hero", TEMPTING HEART does not (attempt to) rely on visuals -- computer enhanced or not to impress.  Instead, it is that rare (Hong Kong) film that really has a good story to tell; or, rather, an interesting way of going about setting up and relating the life tale.  Near the beginning of this drama, a character (director and scriptwriter Sylvia Chang playing a director who is planning to make a movie about romances and relationships) muses about people thinking that fate brings individuals together, then proceeds to (also) wonder whether, if that is so, it is also fate that can drive them apart?

At that juncture, the (re)viewer is given the idea that even while the -- actual and fictional -- film's trio of protagonists (convincingly portrayed throughout by Takeshi Kaneshiro, Gigi Leung and Karen Mok) first appear to the audience as gangly teenagers, they will not always be that in the production as well as in life.  The definite sense which one receives as well is that this well acted film (whose cast includes William So and veteran actresses, Elaine Kam and Sher Yeung) privileges one with a mature -- yet far from distant and unempathetic and complex view of first love, infatuation, school-aged friendships and that period of one's lives for which females are already "too old for pigtails but still too young for cocktails".

This is not at all to say that the perspectives of adults and parents are accorded more respect than that of the youngsters and children.  Rather, it is one of TEMPTING HEART's great strengths that even as one sees why the heart is tempted, one also gets to see why it should or can be steeled against temptations, plus the consequences of each love and life decision that is made.  As the director points out, even though -- especially in matters of passion -- we often tend to see just one (our) viewpoint, there in fact exist many other perspectives and players. Further layers of complexity are provided, revealed and explored too in terms of love not just existing between the usual suspects (a boy and girl) in a romantic movie.
If not the best film of 1999, this unflashy, moderately paced, ungimmicky offering may well be the most thoughtful and quietly satisfying.  As I write this review, I am aware that it did well at the box office in Hong Kong and my homeland.  However, some doubts are harbored as to whether this thoroughly unpretentious and warm offering will be well received in such as New York and London, never mind play in Peoria.  This is because TEMPTING HEART seems to rely on its audience (being able to imagine) having a shared body of experiences with its moviemaker(s) that is in large part culturally and chronologically specific (Re the former: It helped me that Chelsia Chan, a Taiwanese singer mentioned in this film, was a childhood idol of mine; then there are those memories which flooded back upon seeing school pinafores with side zippers and schoolgirlish tendencies to wear P.E. shirts under their classroom clothing. Re the latter: the childhood years of this movie's chief characters take place when bellbottoms and lavalamps truly were fashionable in Asia as well as Europe and America).  Hopefully though, such boundaries can be crossed, personal connection will be made, and it will appeal to and resonate with -- as one review/piece of publicity puts it -- whoever has ever experienced first and young love.
Postscript: On April 16th 2000, "Tempting Heart" won Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Screenplay (Sylvia Chang and Cat Kwan Ho-Ming) and Best Art Direction (Man Lim-Chung).

My rating for the film:  9.