Midnight Whisper a.k.a.
This very intriguing melodrama from 1988 seems
to have somehow fallen through the cracks into obscurity – but I think
it is well worth a look for those interested in a certain actress and for
those that enjoy socially relevant dramas. The film touches on a number
of social issues – women’s standing in HK society, the wife’s standing
within the family unit, the Cultural Revolution and the cultural clashes
between HK and the Mainland.
These issues are tackled within the framework
of a mother’s undying love for her daughter and though it does enter into
the territory of melodrama it does so with a measure of subtlety. The writing
could have been better – but even so as the story progressed I found myself
– much to my surprise I should add – getting very engrossed and feeling
something for a woman who sacrifices so much.
The structure of the story is a bit clunky
as it is told via flashbacks through a radio talk show, but by the end
it comes together nicely. Midnight Whisper is a radio talk show in which
listeners call in to discuss their lives. One evening a gentleman calls
in to say that he has been in love with a woman for a very long time –
but that his love seems hopeless – she has become the mistress of another
man for the love of her daughter. The daughter then calls in to say
that the man is lying and that her mother is a terrible woman. Finally,
the next day the distraught mother calls in to tell her story – and the
film unfolds with her narration.
In a very restrained and fine performance Josephine
Koo plays the mother. She is best known to most of us as the wife of Kenneth
Tsang’s character in Police Story III, but was considered to be a fine
dramatic actresses in HK and had small roles in Red Dust and A Fishy Story.
Here, she wonderfully captures the innate nobility of this woman who manages
to keep her head up no matter how low she has to sink – until it finally
feels like too much for her to handle.
In a rare dramatic performance, Moon Lee plays
the daughter. She does get to whack a few schoolgirls around but otherwise
it is straight drama and Moon is very effective. She actually plays a 15-year-old
girl – even though she must have been around 22 years old at the time.
The character goes through a number of changes and Moon does them all well
– and has a few scenes that any Moon fan will treasure. This film was made
right after Moon's career making appearance in Angels - but it was a last
dramatic role before she was pigeon holed into action roles. Not that I’m
complaining – I love her in those action roles – but I have read of her
wistfully talk of being able to do dramatic roles – and now I understand
As the mother tells her story, it begins with
her daughter’s birth in 1970. Her doctor advised her that it could kill
her – and that she should have an abortion – but she had it anyway. Both
she and her mother-in-law raise the little girl – she having to discipline
the girl, the grandmother spoiling her. Her husband is cheating on her
– even at home – and tells his wife “it’s cheaper than a motel room” and
the grandmother chimes in “that every man needs to have multiple women”.
Josephine applies for a divorce and is able to get the child in the settlement
– but the grandmother says “this child is a Lee” and kidnaps her and returns
to her home in the Mainland.
Here though life has changed since she left and
granny has not kept up with the political winds. The Cultural Revolution
is going on and she mistakenly praises Deng Xiaoping who has just been
condemned by the Communist Council. Granny is attacked as a capitalist
roadie and as having been poisoned by the Gang of Four. She and the little
girl are sent to the farming /labor camp far to the north. Here life is
extremely harsh – and everyone picks on the girl for her background.
As the years pass, Josephine never stops searching
for her daughter – and finally tracks her down in 1986 – but under the
table payments have to made to Communist officials to get her daughter
out (now being played by Moon). To raise the money she has to agree to
become the mistress of this disgusting triad pig who treats her just like
She gets Moon back, but this is just the beginning
of her problems as Moon adjusts very poorly now to life in HK – she feels
like she belongs nowhere – not in the Mainland and not in HK – and begins
to take up with bad elements.
The film covers a lot of territory and a lot of
years – but it remains focused and slowly spins an emotional web about
you. As the world starts to close in on the mother, her hopelessness and
sadness is very compelling.
My rating for this film: 7.5