Director – Yonfan – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12A – 125m
The tutor of an 18 year old girl falls for her mother who hired him against the background of the 1967 protest marches in Hong Kong – sumptuous Closing Gala film from the recently wrapped London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)
Insofar as this is like anything else – which it really isn’t – it’s like a reworking of The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) filtered through In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Oh, and it’s 3D rendered then 2D animated. Broadly speaking, The Graduate is about a young man seduced by a much older, bored housewife before later becoming romantically involved with her daughter. In The Mood For Love is set in early 1960s Hong Kong and includes a sequence on a sloping pedestrian street where a man passes a women walking in the opposite direction, the whole thing charged with a sense of romantic longing. There;’s a similar scene in No.7 Cherry Lane, although it’s considerably less central to the plot than the one in In The Mood For Love.
Yonfan, here making his first film in ten years, would certainly agree that filmic and literary references abound in the film. Some, like the brief In The Mood For Love homage or the shot looking up at water from a full on shower head lifted straight out of Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) are little more than gags which are over in the smallest fraction of time: others last much longer.
Among the longer references are the films of French actress Simone Signoret, three of which godlike university student Fan Ziming (voice: Alex Lam) takes the much older Mrs.Yu (Sylvia Chang) to see on separate occasions: Room At The Top (Jack Clayton, 1959), Casque D’Or (Jacques Becker, 1952) and Ship Of Fools (Stanley Kramer, 1955). The first and last are reimagined in gorgeous black and white while the middle film’s remodelling is in glorious Technicolor.
Actually, all the animation in this film is gorgeous. Yonfan has previously worked in live action and the very opening of the film seems to announce his intent to do something very special with the animation medium here. It’s an overhead shot of 1967 Hong Kong rooftops with lots of incredible detail such as the group of people doing slow motion kung-fu exercises before the shadow of a commercial passenger aircraft flies over. With the next shot looking up at the sky as much of it is obscured by the passing plane, anyone familiar with it will immediately think of a similar scene in animated Japanese cyberpunk classic Ghost In The Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995), likewise set in Hong Kong.
No.7 Cherry Lane is set very specifically in 1967, the year street protests exploded in Hong Kong. Here, those protests are happening at the periphery of the main characters’ experience. Fan is hired by Mrs.Yu to tutor her 18-year old daughter Meiling (Zhao Wei) who at one point in the narrative walks down a largely deserted main street to an intersection past which is marching a mass of demonstrators. If her daughter is largely indifferent to all this, Mrs.Yu has lived through and escaped from the White Terror in Taiwan, but migrating to Hong Kong she has succumbed to home comforts. When the subject of revolution comes up she dismisses the current protests saying she’s seen the real thing.
Mrs.Yu’s existence is now largely encompassed by the domesticity of a block of flats. Fan has to make his way there for the tutoring position. On arrival he gets the floor above by mistake and finds himself in the apartment of fading opera singer Mrs.May (Yao Wei) where she lives with her loyal retainer. Only when her hands start to wander over him does Fan realise he’s on the wrong floor and make his escape, but she is now smitten with him for the duration of the narrative, a fading figure who seems to constantly pass him or ask others about him on the building’s staircases and front garden path.
On the floor below, Meiling is late so Fan engages in a conversation about literature with Mrs.Yu, he introducing Proust’s Remembrance Of Things Past to the conversation while she throws in Cao Xuegin’s Dream Of The Red Chamber. The latter incudes a chapter in which a Taoist nun is abducted by a bandit and Mrs.Yu retires along to her bedroom for a bizarre erotic fantasy inspired by it and featuring the nun, who after her abduction writhes in a forest clearing visited by numerous snakes before sloughing the face and skin of her bandit ravisher to reveal Fan Ziming while he similarly rips apart the nun’s skin covering to reveal Mrs.Yu herself.
Mrs.Yu is allowed an even odder foray into erotic fantasy towards the end involving Ziming’s exposed torso and cats, but by then Ziming has succumbed to the charms of the more modern-thinking Meiling. All this takes place at a breathtakingly leisurely pace where the viewer is as entranced by compelling if gratuitous visual details – an energetic game of tennis without a ball, a suave pickpocket on a tram stealing from a woman’s handbag, lizards scampering around a sloping walkway – as by the loose and meandering plot. That said, the whole works both as romantic drama, a memory of a very specific time and place and an homage to cinema. A truly rewarding visual feast.
No.7 Cherry Lane was the Closing Gala film from the recently wrapped London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF).