Nothing To Be Refused
Director/writer/co-editor Philip Yung and Star Asia Award recipient Aaron Kwok were in attendance for the Port of Call North American premiere at the Lincoln Center-Subway Cinema New York Asian Film Festival Opening Night. Although the movie has its chill The Silence of the Lambs moments, this Hong Kong two-hours-and-a-minute is, at heart, more about Kwok’s Sergeant Chong than any suspense. His hair more grey than black like the bags his ex notes under his sleep-deprived eyes, the conscientious police detective is worn out by his job and yet boyish enough to bring out his female co-workers’ motherly instincts. Thick-rimmed glasses usually slid down his nose and in a quilted vest, he snoozes curled like a baby on an office desk, too absorbed in the case at hand to go elsewhere. Only late is it revealed that he is divorced from a woman he expects will remarry soon and is chary of his visiting their daughter but still cares enough to come comfort him during an emotional crisis.
He has an assistant who gets beaten up and has to be repeatedly admonished for smoking where it is not allowed, whereas the hero is manhandled only in his own nightmares and the cigarette stubs he lights one from another seem not to burn.
The crime on which he calmly obsesses is made more difficult if not seemingly impossible of solution because there is no corpus delicti. From early on there is little doubt that Fatty Tsz-Chung Ting (Michael Ning) is the killer and Jaimei Wang (Jessie Li) the victim.
There are non-chronological time shifts over more than two decades and peripheral characters who add little essential except maybe color -- Ting’s sexually ambiguous dyed-hair flatmate “Prodigy” Hoi and sexy ambiguous non-girlfriend Mo-Yung Lee. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s work is its usual excellent and helps balance this tale and characters that are difficult to follow until Chong and particularly Fatty take matters in hand themselves.
It is not easy, either, to follow the residence-permit reasons that Jaimei has remained away in Shilong, Dongguan, only later arriving to join her family in the former Crown Colony Special Administrative Region. Pouting about gambling hostess mother May’s (Elaine Jin) making her return some heart-shaped earrings, she dropped out of school at sixteen and became an indiscriminate independent call girl who answers clients on a cell phone anywhere and with anyone. Until the printed section two title, it is not especially apparent that she is “A Lonely Person,” as is Ting, who she says looks like Shrek and who has issues from a death in a 1987 automobile accident.
Not drugs like mentioned ketamine nor rough asphyxiation sex, but loneliness, a death wish -- the metaphysical poets’ equation of orgasm with dying, what the French call la petite mort and Nagisa Oshima likened to Japan’s divided psyche in In the Realm of the Senses -- and a bloody willingness, an eagerness, to please are at last courtroom described and pictured in borderline tough-to-take detail. To the detective, the killer and the dead prostitute are added her father, mother and life in potential in her womb; a traumatized little girl from a grisly 1988 case in Chong’s flashback memory and his own daughter; and a youngster named Mai on a seesaw. Much comes down to parents and children in this imperfect but stylistic, not thriller but effective offbeat study of characters.
(Released by Mei Ah Entertainment; not rated by MPAA.)