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Still of "All Apologies."[Photo:filmbiz.asia]
2012, colour, 16:9, 89 mins
Directed by Emily Tang
A village near Guilin, Guangxi province, China, the present day. After enrolling his young son, Dazhuang (Qu Yi), in the best primary school in Guilin, Cheng Yonggui (Cheng Taishen) goes off on a short-term construction-site job in Guangdong province. At home his wife, Yunzhen (Liang Jing), has her hands full getting the pesky Dazhuang to attend school. Then one day, Dazhuang is killed in a car accident when he hitches a ride home on the truck of a neighbour, grocer He Man (Gao Jin). Yunzhen is distraught, as she cannot conceive any more children, and Li Qiaoyu is ordered by the village chief to pay Yunzhen and Yonggui RMB120,000 (US$19,000) in compensation. By selling all she has, Qiaoyu can raise only RMB18,800, and she still has hospital bills to pay for He Man, who's bed-ridden with broken legs. When Yonggui visits He Man, the latter jokingly suggests that Qiaoyu should bear Yonggui a son in lieu of the unpaid compensation. Later, drunk, Yonggui visits Qiaoyu and rapes her, saying she owes him a life. When Qiaoyu becomes pregnant, an elaborate deception becomes necessary.
It's always a long time between drinks for Mainland writer-director Emily TANG; but with her third feature — after the semi-impressionistic Conjugation and way over-arty Perfect Life — she seems finally to have found a way of melding content and form in a way that engages a viewer's feelings. Maybe it comes from co-writing with HAN Jie (village black comedy Mr. Tree (2010)), or maybe it comes from a general realisation that Perfect Life was an artistic dead end. Whatever the reason, All Apologies has a very different look and feel from Tang's previous grey, downbeat studies of Mainland life. Here the setting is scenic Guilin, shot in a cinematic but untouristy way by Hong Kong d.p. LAI Yiu-fai; the film's tempo is natural and unforced, with an easy flow to the early set-up; and the gentle score, by Roger LIN, beefs up the emotion at key points, to notable effect in the final section.
Tang's change of approach prevents Apologies from becoming a cerebral exercise like Life, whose isn't-China-terrible story was only made bearable by its lead actress' performance. Apologies is much more of a real ensemble, with cross-feelings registering on-screen and the whole story — of a young married woman, Qiaoyu, who bears a replacement child for a father whose son has died as a result of her husband's car accident — given a genuine emotional hook. TV drama actress YANG Shuting brings a quiet strength to the role of Qiaoyu, who gradually emerges as the film's main character, and by the end has established a complicit chemistry with actor CHENG Taishen (the cripple in Life) that's quite affecting. It even raises the forbidden thought that maybe, just maybe, the two may establish some kind of permanent relationship.
The script — and Yang's performance — doesn't quite manage to make believable Qiaoyu's jump from rape victim to surrogate mother, which needs a few extra scenes to really work. But without grandstanding all the obvious issues, the layered screenplay does create a conflicted character beneath her placid front: part rebellious (against her husband's selfishness) and part dutiful (paying off a perceived moral debt), Qiaoyu ends up with the least but gains the most in self-respect. Cheng matches her performance in understatement, and the pair contrast neatly with their more emotional spouses, played against the grain by actress LIANG Jing (deglammed, as in Design of Death) and TV actor GAO Jin. It's also worth noting a brief but sparky performance by child actor QU Yi as the pesky child whose death causes all the trouble.
The Chinese title title roughly means A Substitute for Love, or Love's Surrogate, either of which is better than the current English title, which presumably refers to the 1993 Kurt Cobain song.
Source: Film Business Asia
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