Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Jackie Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, Maggie Cheung
(R, 93 min.)
"The flag is still. The wind is calm. It’s the heart of man that is in turmoil!" Buddhist canon
A happy contradiction that promises more than it delivers, this mystic film conversely delivers more than it promises as well. The western Chinese desert is a haunting dreamscape of mythic characters that astound, bemuse, and confound as they drift through the shifting sands of this ancient, windblown wasteland.
In terms of plot, it’s as if a Bruce Lee type has been hired to script an episode of the daily soaps, and someone has hired Federico Fellini to direct it. Oh, and then they decide to give it the trendy twist we saw in Magnolia and Crash, where all the unraveling threads of separate stories are somehow braided together in the end. Each genre has its own fans and expectations, so this hybrid is going to tantalize but never completely satisfy.
The bare bones of the plot revolve around Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung). His heart broken by a lost love, he mans some desert digs as a kind of assassin go between. He looks forward to his yearly visits from his old friend and fellow swordsman, Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung), a dashing adventurer who leaves a trail of broken hearts in his wake. Huang is also the bearer of a memory-erasing gift of magic wine, which he himself drinks, although his host refuses it.
Then we have the Murong siblings, appropriately named Yin and Yang, seeking satisfaction in matters of broken troth, the culprit having been none other than the handsome Huang, who we also learn has earned the enduring animus of his best friend for other less than honorable matters of the heart. Oh, and we begin to wonder about Yin and Yang a little too, in terms of psychosexual identity and such.
Also on the scene are a blind swordsman, hoping to fight his final battle before all the lights go out, and a poor beauty seeking vengeance for her brother’s death, her only payment consisting of a basket of eggs and the family mule. Then there’s the shoeless Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), arriving with his homely camel, followed shortly by his equally homely wife, who vows to accompany him through jianghu, the world of martial arts. Hong attains vengeance for the poor beauty, gaining an egg and sacrificing a finger, a fair bargain in his eyes.
The fight scenes – all dealing with swordplay rather than weapon free martial arts – are beautifully choreographed with freeze framed splashes of surreal color and relatively bloodless death. It’s an artsy chick flick kind of thing rather than the hard core bigger than life extravaganzas we have become used to. But the killing for hire aspect somehow taints and diminishes the genre, where we have come to expect grand and heroic confrontations where kingdoms rise and fall rather than just treacherous lovers or horse thieves. The Yo-Yo Ma cello solos do give it an unquestionable touch of class, nevertheless.
The betrayals themselves are mythic in their scope: brother, best friend, cherished ladylove, and even oneself. I am not the only critic, however, who has found the details “elliptical”, and “indecipherable.” I might compare the plot to the dance of the seven veils, except here the last one is never lifted. We see through a lens darkly at times, and it doesn’t help that three of the leading ladies resemble each other to a large degree, with even Ouyang saying the peasant girl reminds him of someone he once knew. That and the abrupt shifts through time and space without apparent explanation put the audience in a magic wine stupor without even getting to taste the sweet liquor.
But then, we now become part of that memoryscape of dream, fantasy, and desire, experiencing but not quite understanding our trek to the jianghu of ancient China with our Italian tour guide Federico Fellini nodding his cherubic head in approval.
Ouyang, arranger of death and revenge, is after all a businessman. And a basket of eggs and a mule, no matter the beauty of their bearer, just don’t cut it in the killing for hire world. Luckily, there is always someone willing to prove himself, and the peasant beauty finds her defender in the form of a shoeless swordsman, who brings his homely camel and wife along for his adventure.
Not gold, but a single egg for his battle against a horde of horse thieves. Perhaps his wife can make him a lovely Egg Drop Soup from his winnings, just the thing to tide him over while he heals from battle.
You don’t have to defeat a ferocious band of bandits to earn this delightful soup, though. Enjoy it as the nights begin to chill.
Here again are a few other delicious soups to warm your autumn evenings:
Egg Drop Soup
5 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons instant chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 scallions (with tops), diagonally sliced
Heat water, bouillon and salt to boiling in 2-quart saucepan.
Mix the 3 tablespoons cold water and cornstarch; stir gradually into broth. Boil and stir 1 minute.
Slowly pour egg into broth, stirring constantly with fork, to form threads of egg. Remove from heat; stir slowly once or twice.
Garnish each serving with scallions.
Recipe Source: razzledazzlerecipes.com