Midnight Whisper a.k.a. Cascading Feelings

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 why.
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 property.

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