Funeral March

Reviewed by YTSL

There are logical reasons, I reckon, for thinking that it would constitute a “kiss of death” for cinematic works to have at least one of their protagonists spend significant periods of their on-screen time being seriously -- or even fatally -- ill.  When looking at the box office performance of more than one Hong Kong offering that fits this description though, it makes quite a bit of sense why “disease films” continue to be produced in the HKSAR; and to the credit of those who come out with these efforts, thus far it does seem to be so that each and every entry in this -- perhaps paradoxically -- often life-affirming sub-genre that I’ve checked out has been endowed with a certain amount of distinctive elements as well as quality attributes.

Eason Chan and Charlene Choi
In the case of the Joe Ma and Gordon Chan co-produced FUNERAL MARCH, what particularly stood out for this (re)viewer was how much there appeared to be an overall sense of admirable restraint to it (This especially in comparison to the hyper-melodramatic “Forever and Ever”, the other 2001 movie I viewed which featured a leading character whose young life gets prematurely cut short).  Although this impression of coolness is conveyed in large part by way of this surficially bleak film’s understated color template and ace cinematographer Ko Chiu-Lam’s other visual choices, it also comes through in the measured approach to death and life of a key personality -- Duan (well essayed by Eason Chan), a funeral director who is much more conscientious when going about his duties than might be expected of someone who came into his line of work by way of it being a family business (plus has religious beliefs that differ from many of his clients).
Charlene and the Brooklyn Bridge !
FUNERAL MARCH’s main story starts with a young woman named Yee approaching Duan and telling him that she is dying of intestinal cancer and wants to hire him to see to her funeral arrangements.  After she (who is portrayed by Charlene Choi) agrees to adhere to his stipulated conditions for doing so (which include her not being allowed to attempt to take her own life and taking certain actions that ought to prolong her time on earth), he learns that the tasks he’s getting asked to execute include accompanying her on a visit to New York (where, he subsequently learns, her mother -- who died six years earlier by way of an act which people remain unsure was either a suicide or genuine accident -- is buried and her (ex-)boyfriend goes to school).
Even though Duan and Yee are accompanied on their New York trip by two others (The dutiful Elsa -- played by Sheila Chan -- looks to be her wealthy father’s lawyer while a quiet man who doesn’t say much at any time in the film appears to be the family chauffeur), the two lonely individuals get ample opportunities to go from being undertaker and client to something more.  While this sort of social development is clearly what Yee -- whose relationship with her father (The often worried looking Mr. Wong comes in the form of Kenneth Tsang) has been strained by his having a new significant other (The actually not at all evil acting Patsy is essayed by Pauline Yam) -- wants (even if she may not have been consciously looking for this to happen), Duan -- who has not had a girlfriend since breaking up with Jane (The charismatic Candy Lo, making a cameo appearance) -- is shown being less comfortable about the direction that this particular relationship looks to be heading.
Cahrlene and Candy Lo
It is to the credit of FUNERAL MARCH’s scriptwriters (director cum co-producer Joe Ma along with Chan Gam Kuen and Chan Ling Sun) that more than just a single acceptable reason is furnished as to why the apparently ever-rational Duan would hesitate to cultivate more than a professional connection with Yee.  Still, the fact of the matter is that this movie -- whose Chinese title translates into English as “Always In My Heart” -- would have been a really short one if its (main) characters were shown being able to completely follow the dictates of their brains rather than hearts.  And as it turned out (by way of at least one major plot twist that I found to be disappointingly clunkier than the rest of the otherwise pretty smoothly moving work), the film actually went on for several minutes longer than the (first) point at which I really thought that it was going to conclude!
Kenneth Tsang and Sheila Chan
Even while it makes some sense that FUNERAL MARCH turned out to possess the extended final sections that it does, I have to admit that they actually ended up taking away something (meaningful) from the movie for me.  Similarly, while Lowell Lo’s instrumental musical score may have been an added attempt to make this dramatic offering classier than if it had been more run-of-the-mill Cantopop infused, I often found the highlighted music to be more overpowering and noticeable than it probably should have been.  Consequently, this by no means unwatchable effort is one that ultimately cannot maintain -- even while parts of it did approach -- the lofty standards set earlier by the truly spirit-soaring likes of “C’est la Vie, Mon Cheri” (1993) and “Lost and Found” (1996).

My rating for this film:  7.