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