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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Guey Lun Mei elevated Jay Chou's 'Secret 不能说的秘密'

Poster from Jay Chou's SECRET 不能说的秘密

My feelings for Jay Chou had often been rather weird. Back in 2005, in a post which was really meant to diss Taiwanese pop singer Jolin Chai, I lamented the state of Chinese pop and took some swipes at Jay's tendency to mumble through his songs.

Yet I have always been rather kind towards his film endeavours. I conceded that he 'did not suck' at Initial D and was a good enough sport to let others make fun of his image. I even admitted that he was decent in Curse of the Golden Flowers and that I would take his acting over F4's anytime.

So when his directorial debut, SECRET, was announced, he definitely did not earn any contemptuous sneer or eyeball-rolling from me like I normally would do when I hear news of a singer turned actor attempting to direct a film. In fact, I was a little excited, when I heard that the film's female lead is Guey Lun Mei.

Guey Lun Mei's acting debut was BLUE GATE CROSSING, an absolutely beautiful film I raved about back in May.

Millions of Jay Chou fans were looking forward to this film because of Jay Chou, I might be the one and only person in this world who was intrigued by this film because of Guey Lun Mei.

I'll let May Zhee do the obligatory Jay-gushing.

I'm just going to talk about the film, while trying to keep it spoiler-free.

(I find it increasingly annoying that, of all people, SIN CHEW DAILY had been spoiling the film for everyone, Sin Chew is awesome for doing a 2-page interview with me, but it's always disheartening to have my enjoyment of a film ruined by a national paper just because they can't seem to keep plot developments in films under wraps. I still remember how frustrated I was years ago when Sin Chew was the one that revealed that the Chow Yun Fat character, Li Mubai, was going to die in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, weeks before the film was even released.... what the hell?)

SECRET is like a Taiwanese equivalent of Jun-Ai, that is, 'pure innocent love'. Films that feature a chaste romance that involve lots of tentative handholdings, shy exchange of smiles and glances, cute little declarations of affections... before descending into pure heart-wrenching tear-jerking melodrama, where the love between the leads are threatened by uncontrollable, tragic circumstances.

A more cynical person would've torn this film apart. But being a hopeless romantic, of course I enjoyed this film. Yup, Jay Chou is a good director, and he's surrounded by a really great crew that provides more than enough for a film such as this. Good cinematography, art direction and music, this is not a shitty film by some hack director trying to make some quick profit, this feels more like a labour of love (... or a well-polished manufactured item), a film that won't make me leave the cinema sighing that I've foolishly wasted my money again in my naive attempts to show some support to Chinese cinema... like how I felt after I saw the horrible Ming Ming.

The story is rather light and flimsy, it's a high school romance, about a guy who meets a girl, their relationship develops into romance, then misunderstanding occurs, angst ensues, then there is a painful revelation that will shock most audiences who are fortunate enough not to have anyone spoiling the film for them. My advice? The less you know about SECRET before you see it, the better.

Jay Chou isn't bad in this film, in fact, I have to say that I've never seen him speak that much in a film. Nice to see him playing someone who resembles a human being, although said human being is an affable musical genius who is cocky in an adorable Great Swifty-manner, while at the same time shy and bashful in front of the girls, and absolutely sincere and romantic when he's in love.

But this film really belongs to Guey Lun Mei. No, seriously. I was objective at first, and as adorable as her character was during her introduction in the movie, I found her rather cliched. Just another eccentric, quirky cute anime-style girl that would mildly amuse me, and Justin would try to strangle to death.

Yet as the film goes on, I realize that it's her acting that elevates the film to another level. A lesser actress would have made the quirky likability of Rain (that's Guey Lun Mei's character) seem forced and scripted by overacting or underacting, but Guey Lun Mei was just perfect. While her character is not as complex as Blue Gate Crossing's sexually confused Meng Ke-Rou, she's definitely really good here by making Rain so believable (I also want to add that she's more feminine and pretty in this film, which feels weird since the only image I have of her is the dyke tomboyish Meng Ke-Rou.

Guey Lun Mei in Blue Gate Crossing
The possibly lesbian Meng Ke-Rou in Blue Gate Crossing

Guey Lun Mei in Secret
Guey Lun Mei looks more like a chick in Secret

The soundtrack of the film is pretty good too, mostly piano and orchestra pieces (composed by Jay, of course). Film seems to reflect the director's apparent love for Chopin pretty clearly. And many scenes of Jay playing the piano are executed very well, one of the highlights being a 'piano duel' between Jay and some other guy that seems to be directly from the (little-seen and much underrated) film, THE LEGEND OF 1900, starring Tim Roth and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (that's the guy who directed the classic Cinema Paradiso, which I also recently wrote about back in May).

The piano duel scene from LEGEND OF 1900, compare that with SECRET

SECRET has its flaws, like logic fallacies, annoyingly unnecessary side characters who seem to kill the pacing of the film whenever they appear, and a rather weak ending (film would have been devastating if ended at an earlier point), but other than that, it's still pretty good. It made me want to immediately resume work on my much-delayed short film project.

Music video of the film's theme song 不能说的秘密 A SECRET I CANNOT TELL (which is the literal translation of the film's Chinese title)

Trailer of Secret