Princess-d



Reviewed by YTSL

From an October 1999 interview (which can be found at www.time.com):-

Interviewer: So what's next for you?
Sylvia Chang: I'm concentrating on one film--a young people's film, involving their fantasy computer world, the mix of fantasy and the real.  Young people in Hong Kong are privileged, but they're lonely as a result.  They don't know what it is to live without a cellular phone.  They don't know how to deal with themselves.  It's really dangerous. . .

. . . Interviewer: Do you think the Internet is a good thing?
Sylvia Chang: I always get this scary picture of everybody hiding in the dark, telling each other some very exotic and honest things.  How does it affect people using it all day, where does that lead? . . . I just have this mental picture of people lit by a green glow from the screen writing out their hearts, and wonder where it will all stop.  My sons do this.  They come home and spend their whole day on the Net. My second son is 16, my eldest, 19.  One sometimes comes home, goes into my husband's office and starts writing e-mail.  I ask him what he's doing and he says, “I'm e-mailing my brother.”  I ask him why he doesn't just talk to him, or phone him up if he wants to talk when he's not here, and he says, “but it's not as much fun.”

Reading the above some three years after it took place, it is pretty obvious that the movie to which Sylvia Chang was referring in that “Online Time-Asia” interview is PRINCESS D; the creative 2002 theatrical release that derives its English title from a real life fantasy figure along with a (for now) completely fictional digital princess described by her creator as being his “guide of [sic.] adventures” and an independent-minded plus -acting individual who “when I am in danger, I can just go and leave . . . behind.”  Similarly, and especially in a scene which shows the two of them happily cyber-chatting with each other while ensconced in their own, actually adjoining, rooms, it appears fairly clear that the thoughtfully mature, even while being youth- and seemingly straw-clutching activity-centric, drama’s pair of main male characters are modeled to some extent after -- or inspired by -- the female co-director cum -scriptwriter’s own sons.

In this context (along with others), it seems rather appropriate that one of PRINCESS D’s lead duo is known as Kid (although it’s no less difficult to believe Sylvia Chang having a child like Edison Chen as it was to envisage that -- as was effectively mandated by this effort -- Anthony Wong’s soulful ballroom dancing instructor character could be this slacker individual’s father).  On the other hand, and seeing that he comes in the form of the very straight-laced looking Daniel Wu, the elder of these two brothers -- a computer graphics designer known as Joker, even though he is far from being one -- appears to be some years away from being a teenager (even while most definitely being a member of the cyber-generation as well as an, in his own way, disaffected youth).
Although her name appears in this quality production’s credits behind -- and she probably does have less screen time than -- Messrs. Wu and Chen, Angelica Lee it is who steals this show.  Portraying a necessarily street-wise, “take charge” plus outwardly tough individual named Ling (who is miles apart from the quieter ones she played in “The Eye” and “Forever Theresa Teng”), the petite female captured the attention and affections of (this member of) PRINCESS D’s audience as easily and surely as her wonderfully multi-layered character captivated Joker, and got him wanting her to be both his model for a computer game heroine plus real life love.  So much is this the case that I found myself majorly ruing the choices made by the movie’s makers which ensured that the impressively lensed (by Mark Lee Ping Bing) offering would not focus as much on Ling as it actually did.
All in all, one of the greatest mis-steps on the part of co-helmers cum -scriptwriters Sylvia Chang and Yuen Gam Lun involved their having counted on it being all that possible for PRINCESS D’s plot structure to comfortably contain and seamlessly weave together all of this multi-stranded offering’s different(ly) interesting principal and salient supporting characters -- and their similarly combo (of escapist dream with often heartstring-tuggingly harsh reality) themed stories.  Another was that which led to the over-foregrounding in the work of the, even if only relatively speaking, too bland Joker and unreasonably immature Kid at the expense of not just Ling but also her certifiably dysfunctional but, nonetheless, obviously loving family (whose other key members comprise: her “no longer mentally all there” mother (The now middle-aged -- but still striking looking -- Patricia Ha gives life to one more mesmerizing character after too many years away from the Hong Kong movie world); her prison inmate father (this effort’s composer, Jonathan Lee, shared a couple of very affecting scenes with Pat Ha in his short time on screen); and her arguably well meaning Triad small potato younger brother (Sam is played by Wong Yik Lam)).
At the risk of coming across as far less generally enamored by this admirably ambitious plus risk-taking offering than I in fact am, here’s stating my additionally having had problems with the choice of conclusion, especially ending coda, for PRINCESS D.  In all honesty though, the further away that I have temporally gotten away from my (initial) viewing of that whose Chinese title rather tellingly translates into English as “Wanting to Fly”, the less its flaws stick in my craw.  Instead, this (re)viewer finds herself more fondly remembering and highly valuing its more inspired sections; among which are the effort’s breathtakingly imaginative entire first twenty minutes (but especially Joker’s hallucinatory view of a gang rumble) and its wholly otherworldly final cyber sequence along with pretty much every precious moment in which one -- but preferably two -- of its three truly outstanding cast members (i.e. Angelica Lee, Patricia Ha and Anthony Wong) were in the picture.

My rating for the film: 7.5

N.B. Those who wish to view the “Director’s Cut” of PRINCESS D need to get hold of its DVD.  In contrast, the version of the movie that’s out on VCD is the 10 minutes shorter one that was shown in Hong Kong cinemas.