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Friday, May 04, 2007

James Lee's 'Things We Do When We Fall In Love 当我们同在一起'

This happened last week when I was at the press screening of THINGS WE DO WHEN WE FALL IN LOVE:

During the last act of the film, when the two protagonists of the film were in the middle of a really intense screaming match, and the man (Loh Bok Lai) started to kick stuff in a berserk rage while the woman (Amy Len) was sobbing somewhat hysterically, I cheered. It wasn't a "YAAAAAAAY!" cheer, but more a quiet "YES!" cheer that was inaudible to most people except, maybe, my dad sitting beside me.

I didn't know why I did that, perhaps the sight of characters showing that much fire in a James Lee film really caught me off-guard. Perhaps like most audiences of a reality show, I was more riled up by the sight of two people screaming at each other than to not see anything happen at all.

THINGS WE DO WHEN WE FALL IN LOVE is the second installment of Malaysian auteur James Lee's 'Love Trilogy' (check out my review of BEFORE WE FALL IN LOVE AGAIN, the first part of the trilogy). It follows a couple during a road trip that takes place over the course of one night. Their relationship is a stormy one, and with the camera shooting them from the backseat of the car, audiences are given a voyeuristic view of the duo as they chat, eat, bicker, sing while driving around. Whole thing's like a reality show.

At the beginning of this film, the main guy, a computer programmer, delivers a soliloquy (kind of) about one's lack of need for a GPS (a colleague bought a GPS mobile phone) since it's impossible for one to really get lost in the modern society, it actually sets up how often he loses himself in his romantic relationship. All these are epitomized by a scene in the middle of the film, where, after getting into a heated argument, his lover storms off from the car, and he ends up chasing after her, only to find himself lost in a desert, and thus we get lengthy shots of him trudging through the isolated place, which symbolizes his state of mind. (unfortunately, this symbolism was initially lost to me until I overheard a conversation exchange between James Lee, Loh Bok Lai and a reporter during the press conference after the screening, I was really more befuddled by the sight of the desert)

Similar to how I can never really warm up to Haruki Murakami's minimalistic prose and his works (I'm more likely going to embrace something more over-the-top, like, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez) I think films such as this are either hit-or-miss, you either love it, or you don't. This realistic, naturalistic and unsentimental portrayal of a relationship between two flawed characters can be very engaging for those who can connect or emphathise with the protagonists, and festival circuits are most likely going to appreciate and praise the film for its authenticity and sincerity. Perhaps my personal tastes and personality hinder my appreciation and enjoyment of the film. In the end, all I can do is appreciate the intention of the filmmaker more than being emotionally affected by the actual film.

While the performances of the two lead actors are laudable, I couldn't care much for their characters, in fact, I was occasionally annoyed by their insecurities and the mundane stuff they talked about, it's like sharing the same table with people you don't want to hang out with. Of course, others will definitely find these people interesting. What can work for other people might not work for me, just like how I can totally enjoy a film like BEFORE SUNSET (same thing, film unfolds in real time, the two main characters doing nothing but talking, joking, laughing, flirting etc.) while some friends I lent the film (BEFORE SUNSET) to are furious that they had to sit through something 'as boring as that'.

I liked the first film, BEFORE WE FALL IN LOVE AGAIN more than THINGS WE DO WHEN WE FALL IN LOVE, because it is more stylized and plot-driven, and also because James Lee's sense of humour and irony, two factors of his I appreciate most as a filmmaker, were on full display during its last act (Japanese mobsters in Hawaiian outfit, YES!).

Maybe this film really isn't my cup of tea. Maybe I was really expecting a surrealistic musical based on the trailer I saw back in March (at MALAYSIAN SHORTS). But certain images of this film DO stick with me, though not as vividly as BEFORE WE FALL IN LOVE AGAIN's, like the aforementioned desert scene, a scene of a guy dancing at the middle of the street to release his frustration, and, er, *cough* that girl at the swimming pool in the epilogue. There's also this strange fascination of seeing places I'm very familiar with shown in the film. Especially when dad and I spotted a coffee shop we had lunch at just the day before the screening.

Anyway, despite my misgivings of this film, I'm still looking forward to the third installment of the trilogy.

There's one marketing move about this film that irked me though...


I find that by revealing the two protagonists as secret lovers having a adulterous affair in the official film synopsis sort of diminishes the impact or surprise this film may have gotten towards the end.