Lover's Tear

With a cast that includes Sammo Hung, Yukari Oshima, Lam Ching-Ying and Ngai Sing one might expect that there would be a large amount of action, but for the most part this film is a character driven story that weaves together a tense narrative and a powerful love story.  This film is in fact surprising in many small wonderful ways – from the portrayal of the characters – in particular the “bad guys” – to the path that the story takes to the final bittersweet scene. The film explores the common HK themes of loyalty and honor – but on many different levels and in a way that few films do. I found this to be a terrifically involving film – beautifully directed by Jacob Cheung – and with two performances (in which hardly a word is spoken) that will resonate with me for a long time.
Nina Li, Sammo and Yukari
Jacob Cheung (The Intimates, Cageman) takes what could have easily been standard cops and crooks fodder and turns it into a gem. The pacing of the film is nearly flawless – and there are a number of noirishly suspenseful scenes that reminded me of Hitchcock in his British films. There is certainly a 39 Steps flavor to the film – both stylistically and story wise. Cheung – who is considered more of an artistic director than a commercial one – brings many of these artistic elements – imaginative lighting, moody music, seamless editing – to bear on this "commercial" film and turns it into something special.
Nina, Lam Ching-Ying and Ngai Sing
Two HK cops  - Ngai Sing and his older partner Inspector Mai – come to Shenzhen to meet with the Mainland authorities regarding the murder of one of their colleagues. Commissioner Kung – Sammo – tells them that he suspects that a criminal named Lin Wei (Tsui Kam-Kong) is the guilty party and that he is being sought after. Against orders, Sing goes off on his own to investigate and soon circumstances come about so that he is wrongly accused of shooting – Yukari – a Mainland cop. He is able to escape though and is on the run handcuffed to the mistress of Lin Wei – Nina Li – the only person who can prove that he is innocent. Chasing after them are Lin Wei and his gang, the Mainland cops and Inspector Mai – but the two find temporary sanctuary at Nina’s rural home with her father Wu Ma.
The film changes mood and tempo here as it takes on a lyrical nature as the two slowly develop an unspoken affection for one another. Sing soon learns of her story from Wu Ma. She was forced into prostitution in HK and Lin Wei pulled her out of the depths of that life and gave her a new start. She feels overwhelmingly obligated to him and no matter what Sing says about him, and no matter what her feelings are for Sing – she could never hurt him.
Nina, Lam, Tsui Kam-Kong, Sing
Nina Li is the heart and soul of this film. Her performance radiates a quiet passion and complexity. Her character is deaf and nearly mute – but she is able to convey enormous emotions – love, guilt, compassion, heartbreak – with hardly a word – only using her eyes and body language for the most part.
What also really makes the film interesting is how the bad guys are portrayed. Lin Wei is a smuggler and a killer – but a professional and he is truly in love with Nina – worships her – and has done everything he could to make her life better. The other performance that I enjoyed so much is from Lam Ching-Ying. He works for Wei, but is also responsible for looking after Nina. He too is deaf and the two of them are connected at a level that goes beyond love and friendship – he would do anything to protect her or make her happy – even betray the trust of Wei. When he does this though it breaks his heart. He comes across as incredibly tough and thus his feelings for Li are all the more touching.
Finally Sammo and the cops have set up a trap for Wei – with Nina as the bait. Though Wei knows it is a trap, he has to go because her life might be in danger – but he turns to his men and says “this is personal – no one has to come with me. I will never hold it against you”. All of his men immediately pick up their guns and follow him into a near certain death situation – as does Lam Ching-Ying. It is a powerful moment.

This was a compelling film – and in some ways a difficult one. The sense of humanity and complexity that Cheung gives to all of his characters (even the minor ones) makes it almost impossible to make judgements, to take sides. But in a story like this, someone has to live and someone has to die – and the viewer will be left a bit sad no matter how the fates decide it.

My rating for this film: 8.0