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).
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.