It’s not a bad adaptation of Eileen Chang’s novella, but Ann Hui’s film here doesn’t really feel resonating or powerful enough to work.
Dir. Ann Hui
1984 | Hong Kong | Drama/Romance/War | 93 mins | 1.85:1 | Cantonese & Mandarin
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Cora Miao
Plot: A cynical playboy pursues an introverted divorcee in the decadent Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion.
Awards: Won 1 Golden Horse – Best Costume Design; Nom. for 7 Golden Horses – Best Feature Film, Best Leading Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Original Song
Source: Celestial Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed as part of Migratory Times programme at Oldham Theatre)
Ann Hui’s first ever adaptation of an Eileen Chang text came in the form of Love in a Fallen City, which as far as Hui’s ‘80s works are concerned, is one of her more widely-seen ones. (She would adapt another of Chang’s material in the 1997 movie, Eighteen Springs.)
Starring a young Chow Yun-Fat and Cora Miao, Fallen City is set just before WWII breaks out in the British colony of Hong Kong. Chow and Miao are okay but never riveting, playing awkward lovers—a bachelor and a divorcee respectively—who are not sure if they are meant for each other.
But as the film unfolds with the spectre of the looming war, there is a sense of inevitability—that circumstances beyond their control might force them apart, and hence, they must want to choose the other.
Chang’s prose can be difficult to translate onto the screen, particularly the inner psychology of her characters, but I think Hui has tried her best and it is not a bad effort. However, Fallen City doesn’t feel powerful enough to work on its own dramatic terms—and in fact, the third act where it transforms into some kind of war movie feels like it was staged on a film set.
The quasi-spectacle of explosions and gunfights dilutes any emotions that has been built up by that point, and so is the theme of self-identity (i.e. the tension of wanting to be free from traditional values, yet one is also bound by matrimonial duties).