Ann Hui’s latest period piece has a slow-burning elegance, but despite the array of world-class talents involved—Christopher Doyle, Ryuichi Sakamoto and the late Emi Wada—and adapted from an Eileen Chang text no less, it feels too thematically shallow to work.
Dir. Ann Hui
2020 | China | Drama | 144 mins | 1.85:1 | Mandarin
NC16 (passed clean) for sexuality
Cast: Ma Sichun, Yu Feihong, Eddie Peng
Plot: A young girl travels from Shanghai to Hong Kong in pursuit of education, but ends up working for her aunt seducing rich and powerful men.
Awards: Official Selection (Venice)
International Sales: Golden Scene
Subject Matter: Moderate – the ’40s; Desire & Seduction; Men and Women
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Love After Love is an example of a film that theoretically seems like a masterpiece in the making but unfortunately the end result is disappointing.
Despite assembling an array of world-class talents, including Christopher Doyle on camera, Ryuichi Sakamoto with an original score (albeit a minor effort) and the late Emi Wada (her final work) on costumes, Ann Hui’s film isn’t as strong as it ought to be.
Screened out of competition at Venice, where she received an honorary Golden Lion, Love After Love courted a lukewarm reception, with several critics labelling it as ‘empty’.
I wouldn’t go to the extent of saying it’s an empty film as there are still aspects to appreciate (especially how elegant it looks), but it feels thematically shallow and I find it difficult to feel deeply for its characters.
“Love is a fire that burns unseen; a wound that aches without feeling.”
Adapted from a text from Eileen Chang (Hui previously adapted her work for 1984’s Love in a Fallen City and 1997’s Eighteen Springs), Love After Love centers on a young woman (Ma Sichun) who travels from Shanghai to Hong Kong to meet her aunt in hopes of furthering her education.
However, she finds herself cultivated into a world of rich, powerful men. Most prominently, she falls in love with a rebellious young man (Eddie Peng), whose casual promiscuity proves to be disruptive. Hui’s work will be too slow for many, and it contributes to the film’s narrative lethargy.
Ultimately, Hui is trying to depict with an old-world charm a bygone era where the elites dictate the rules of the game as it were—there’s implicit seduction between old men and young women, unchecked desires, class discrimination, bad decisions, etc, but somehow the magic that Hui had hoped to conjure up got lost in the process.