Silent Love

Reviewed by YTSL

There she goes again, singing the praises of some obscure melodrama that isn’t widely available!  While there might be some modicum of truth in such a thought, here’s nonetheless persisting in taking the opportunity to assert that this D&B Production is one of those Hong Kong movies that I’m surprised is not better known and/or frequently mentioned than it appears to be.  This is not least because of it being so that while the 1986 John (AKA former Shaw Brothers star David) Chiang directed offering can feel like a modest as well as small scale work, it’s neither run of the mill in terms of its focus (on a close knit group of physically challenged but enterprising, in their own way, individuals) nor quality (as one might expect of a serious effort that has Sammo Hung as its producer, Ivy Ho as its co-scriptwriter (along with Siu Kwok Wah) plus the likes of Lau Ching Wan -- whose first film this was -- and Fan Siu Wong in its cast).

Perhaps this sign as well as Cantonese language utilizing offering slipped under the radar of many Hong Kong filmophiles on account of it being the third Jade Theatre effort -- after ones that were released in 1965 and 1971 -- to have SILENT LOVE as its (English) title.  Another possibility lies in it seeming to (still) only be out -- like with too many worthy works for this (re)viewer’s liking -- on VCD or (Tai Seng) VHS tape (as opposed to DVD).  In any case, that which has been described as having had artistic pretensions -- but which I prefer to look upon as being a movie whose makers dared to come up with something that would be somewhat different from the norm and were allowed to do so by a then fledgling production company that Li Cheuk To described as having “no stars and large financial resources to produce mainstream films, and so is forced to make smaller, more offbeat films” (on pg. 101 of the 2000 HKIFF’s “Hong Kong Cinema ’79-’89”) -- is one that I’m reckoning that some people, particularly those who appreciate good acting and have yet to see Season Ma in action, will end up thanking me for bringing it to their attention.
If I had not previously seen this HKFA Best Actress nominee (for “Boat People” -- which also garnered her the Best Newcomer prize -- as well as SILENT LOVE) having a speaking role in another seemingly under-rated 1980s Hong Kong movie (i.e., “The First Time is the Last Time”), I would have thought that she had had a life long sign language reliance.  That’s how convincing Season Ma was as the mute but not deaf and nonetheless very expressive character known as Heung Gite (as well as by her official name of Heung Siu Kwai) who: first appeared on screen skillfully performing what amounts to a dance-like signing interpretation of a Cantopop song (on her own before being joined by Fan Siu Wong); and, a short while later, is shown being convicted of manslaughter and subsequently sentenced to a seven year prison term.
A quick glance at the way that Heung Gite and her fellow boat-dwelling pals go about earning a living would seem to confirm their being fated to lead troubled lives.  This is because this spunky lass, the wide-eyed Little Dragon (who Fan Siu Wong plays), Long Neck (so nicknamed because that’s what he has!), Fatty Turtle (who does bear some physical resemblance to this animal!) and the newly released from jail Leopard (a fellow portrayed by Ronald Wong who is this group’s primary communicator with non-signing people) comprise a gang of predominantly deaf plus dumb young pickpockets whose turf is being claimed by a much meaner group of individuals (whose Tai Lo comes in the form of Roy Cheung).  Additionally, Lin (who appeared to be Heung Gite’s real life elder sister as well as friend) is not just a member of the world’s oldest profession but someone who looks to be further bedeviled by having her pimp -- an unsavory character who may well have been called Rocky because he seems to delight in battering others, namely his supposed significant other -- also be her boyfriend (or vice versa).
Still, this is not at all to say that SILENT LOVE solely consists of doom and gloom moments.  Indeed, and even while possessing not one but two love triangles -- both of which involve Lau Ching Wan’s admirably manly Kelly character along with Season Ma’s Heung Kai -- plus having a main tale that culminates in the shockingly sudden as well as violent death of more than one individual, this well paced effort actually has a larger amount of relaxed plus cheery moments than other Hong Kong movies that center on delinquent youth (including Lawrence Ah Mon’s “Spacked Out” and “Gimme Gimme” along with lower grade fare like “Girls in the Hood”).
In part, this is due to a significant amount of time having been spent on positively fleshing out the movie’s main characters (by way of weaving into the work such as a visit to a popular recreational cum community center for deaf and dumb folks along with illustrative examples of how sign language can come across as an artistic form as well as practical method of communicating).  At the same time, the Dickson Poon executive produced effort also undoubtedly benefited from its makers having favored a style of storytelling that ensured that this dramatic offering would be moving as well as eventful, yet -- to my mind at least -- never overbearingly over-emotional.  Hence it being so that, on the face of his SILENT LOVE work, it seems to be a real pity that the former kung fu film pin-up at the helm of this arresting offering has not earned even half the directing kudos that his half brother, Derek Yee, has done.

My rating for the film: 8.