Fear of Intimacy

Tony Leung Ka-fai continues to surprise me as he settles into that awkward period when actors reach middle age and their status undergoes rapid change.  Of course for most Hong Kong actresses this isn't a problem because their careers are generally over long before they approach middle age, but for the men they usually are in the position of having to adjust to smaller character roles or ones that take into account their true age. There are a few actors such as Andy Lau and the other Tony Leung who have so far been able to fight this career displacement off because of their still youthful appearance and a surfeit of charisma and charm.  But Tony Leung Ka-fai didn't really ever have a huge abundance of looks or charisma - his long career has been based on an astonishing chameleon like ability to convincingly play all types of roles from a suave lover in "The Lover" to an effeminate gigolo in "Boys are Easy" to a pitch perfect parody of 1960s' films in "92 Legendary La Rose Noire" and be so good in them all. I know a lot of Hong Kong film fans have never warmed to his nasally voice and awkward facial bone structure, but I have never seen him give a bad performance in a film and I find his unique off-kilter looks very interesting.  His headlining days seem to be over though and we generally only get to see him acting as either a dad in flimsy films like "The Spy Dad" (in which he gives a great Bruce Lee impersonation) and "Papa Loves You" or as a character actor in solid films like "20:30:40", "Dumplings" and "Men Suddenly in Black".
So it is a pleasure having the opportunity in this indie film to see him front and center again and to give a terrific performance as a man weighed down by his past and unable to move on. Director Vincent Chui apparently is a well-known personality in the Hong Kong Indie film scene but I have to admit to not having seen or even heard of any of his previous efforts - "Betrayal", "Long Distance", "As Time Goes By" and "Leaving in Sorrow". "Fear of Intimacy" is the biggest film he has made and it has a number of mainstream actors in it. The film has an intriguing premise and a promising beginning but it seems uncertain of what it wants to be - a romance, a mystery, a character study, a social critique and by the end it is really none of these. In an interview the director said that he was aiming for something akin to Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and though one can easily spot those influences in the film it never comes close to reaching that level of obsession and tension - it just isn't focused enough and keeps dragging in side stories that are distractions more than anything. Perhaps he is trying to say that life never goes in a straight line - it's full of potholes and complexity and we rarely end up where we expect to, but as a viewing experience one expects more of a bang in this film after a lot of threads and build-up.
Fai (Tony Leung) was once a prize winning and highly driven photojournalist, but he is now a jaded chain-smoking paparazzo who stalks celebrities in hopes of catching them in a compromising position. He works for one of the many gossip magazines that feed the hunger of the Hong Kong populace and uses an entire team to track down and keep tabs on his targets. As he tells one person, "it pays more than photo journalism". His ambition disappeared and his cynicism blossomed when his girlfriend Bo (Taiwanese actress Lam Mei-jing - "Bullets Over Summer", "Red Rain") suddenly disappeared one day five years before. His final picture of her on the beach turning towards him haunts him and he wonders what happened - is she alive, did she kill herself, did she leave him - and if so why? He takes on a new intern from Singapore, Suet (played by a real Singaporean Michelle Saram who is much better here than she was in "Skyline Cruisers" - she also appeared in "Bullets Over Summer") who brings back a certain freshness, energy and idealism into his life.
When a wealthy woman that they had taken pictures of the night before is murdered, the two of them find themselves attempting to dig more into the story, but co-incidentally the trail leads to Fai's nephew Anson (Jonathan Cheung Wing-hong) who in another co-incidence seems to somehow be involved with none other than Bo. Fai frantically tries to unravel all of this and answer the questions he needs answered for him to start over. Along on the ride are director Barbara Wong as the magazine's editor and Carl Ng as Suet's ex-boyfriend. At times the film feels like it is headed into film noir territory but it never quite makes it as it gets headed off and bogged down in inertia. Nevertheless, Tony nicely paints a complex picture of a man in a fog of confusion and depression and full of contradictory emotions of anger, sexual need and understanding. This is an all-Tony show.

My rating for this film: 6.0