Reviewed by YTSL
This dramatic offering takes its title from
the Mandarin word for older brother, and sends a youthful Hong Kong man
journeying to a remote Mainland Chinese province in search of his itinerant
elder male sibling. At Ma-Duo, a dusty “stopover place” that reminded
me of a few places I’ve been to in East Africa (as opposed to any I’ve
seen in an East Asian film -- but has a school named after Sir Run Run
Shaw), the apparently by now seasoned traveler shows strangers a photograph,
one of whose three figures is his elder brother. By way of actions
more than words, it gets revealed that this older member of his family
“disappeared when [he] was young” but regularly informed those at home
of his whereabouts by way of postcards mailed from all over China.
However, three years ago and for reasons (yet) unknown, after sending a
postcard from that Northern Chinese town, no more was heard from him...
GEGE looks to have been given a premiere screening
at the 2001 Hong Kong International Film Festival. Although this
joint production of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, X'ian Film
Studio and RTHK was a FIPRESCI award winner at that well attended event
along with “My Life as McDull”, its very existence continues to remain
far from well known. Some additional acclaim (including at the Venice,
Bratislava and Fribourg international film festivals) may have helped the
85 minute length effort get a Fall 2002 theatrical run at the Broadway
Cinematheque plus a DVD release. However, even with Andy Lau -- the
Cantopop singer-actor who also had a hand in producing Fruit Chan’s “Made
in Hong Kong” -- being listed as its “film consultant/advisor”, it does
not appear to have found much of a “regular” audience.
The most cursory of glances at GEGE should yield
several reasons why this is so. For one thing, this reflective plus
“indie” feeling work -- whose debutante director plus scriptwriter, Mak
Yan-Yan, was a screenplay assistant on “In the Mood for Love” and appears
to share Wong Kar Wai’s eye for detail -- is truly light on dialogue.
Indeed, it’s really only at an advanced stage in this apparent semi-documentary
that a relatively lengthy speech is heard being made. Furthermore,
so unused remained this (re)viewer to the voices of the predominantly Mandarin
language film’s cast members that she’s actually uncertain re who it was
who proclaimed that “I know each and everyone of us will travel on life’s
journey, and there’s no turning back”, then “I see and can only say, I
wish you well, a good journey, take care” (even while recognizing that
those sentiments are key to (understanding) this offering together with
more than one of its main characters).
GEGE probably also lost out at the box office
as a consequence of it appearing to be a star-less vehicle. Still,
while it’s true enough that its rather average looking lead actor doesn’t
seem all that charismatic, this actually ended up being to the film’s benefit
(since Stanley Tam Kwok Ming comes across as an individual who, like his
traveler character, wouldn’t require deluxe level hotel accommodation or
transportation when visiting a foreign territory). Similarly, one
cannot put it past Jin Cai-Hsia being a real life equivalent of the fetchingly
traditional costumed native of Qing Hai province plus ethnic minority in
her own country that she essayed in the shot entirely on location -- and
mainly outdoors -- (by Siuki Yip and Eric Lau) work. Ditto with regards
to there being some of Cai Tao in the generally scruffy looking plus leather
jacketed photographer -- who turned out to have Beijing roots -- he portrayed.
In point of fact, one of GEGE’s strong suits is
the feeling of authenticity that courses through much of it. Despite
its having been shot using the much maligned medium known as digital video,
this admirably unjudgmental feeling -- and, consequently, perspective enlarging
-- work also can boast of having some striking images along with photogenic
and uncommon scenery (notably a beautiful lake into which three men, including
this film’s protagonist, skinny-dipped) plus interesting human subjects
(including tent-dwellers, Muslim skull capped elders and immensely rosy
cheeked children who, nevertheless, are recognizably East Asian).
And even while its main musician makes major use of an incorrectly tuned
guitar, the work’s deceptively amateurish as well as arguably tuneless
sounding soundtrack turns out to not only be distinctive but helpful at
scene setting plus mood establishing too.
Lest it seem like I can see no wrong with GEGE,
however, here’s pointing out that I wish that it was more dynamically paced.
No doubt, its surprisingly sure handed first time director had her reasons
for having it be the way it is. As things stand, however, my mind
was apt to wander for a bit while viewing certain portions of this at times
perhaps too understated work. Additionally, although I don’t mind
the even toned offering having as simple and thin a general plot as it
does, I really would have preferred for its story to have come to a clearer
and more decisive close than it ended up doing.
My rating for this film: 7.