Saturday, January 23, 2016

Patrick Kong's unglamorous Anniversary (film review)

One of the posters for Anniversary
which I've seen about Hong Kong
Anniversary (Hong Kong, 2015)
- Patrick Kong, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Alex Fong Lik Sun, Stephy Tang, Leila Tong, Louis Cheung, Rachel Lee
"Do you really have to?"  That was the question a friend asked when I told him that I wanted to see Patrick Kong's latest film before I wrote up my top ten 2015 Hong Kong movies list.  And while Anniversary not being among my favorite Hong Kong movies of last year may appear to vindicate my friend's low opinion of the scriptwriter-director's filmmaking abilities, I do want to state for the record that I honestly don't consider this particular offering to be a throwaway work which was a waste of time to view!  
The fourth film from Patrick Kong which stars Alex Fong Lik Sun and Stephy Tang, Anniversary centres on a pair of 30something-year-olds whose marriage of 10 years has gone rather stale. Distinctly more dramatic than romantic, this at times thought-provoking work helps to cement its filmmaker's reputation as a guru of modern relationships as well as makes a case for his being better at drama than comedy (despite his often being called upon to helm lighter -- and arguably consequently more crowd-pleasing -- works). 
An ambitious career woman, wedding planner Bo (the name all of Stephy Tang's characters in the four films directed by Patrick Kong in which she's appeared alongside Alex Fong) appears to spend more time and energy on her work than her man.  And although the distinctly less professionally ambitious Keung (which also happened to be the name of Alex Fong's character in L for Love, L for Lies, the third Patrick Kong movie in which he co-starred with Stephy Tang) clearly is not happy with the state of his marriage, he nonetheless hasn't done much to try to remedy matters.      
Initially, it looks like Bo and Keung are surrounded by people who have been unsuccessful in the game of love.  For example, her father abandoned her mother (Rachel Lee, previously known as Loletta Lee during her younger, sexier days!) and their two daughters while Keung's father appears to be a henpecked husband saddled with a battleaxe wife.  And when suspicions gets added into the mix that one half of the couple is cheating on the other, Bo and Keung's marriage looks like it's headed up for a breakup before long.
More than once, however, Anniversary shows that things, and people, often aren't like they seem to be on the surface, or at first glance.  Among the positive instances are those which show that sometimes, it's not uselessly naive to hope that a person or relationship can take a turn for the better.  At the same time though, the point is also made more than once in this movie that there are indeed times when one has to actively work at a relationship in order to increase its chances of enduring.  And by doing so, its scriptwriter-director bestows a certain mature tone to this drama that also made the film and many of its character appear more realistic than is often the case with many a commercial production.
To be sure, stylistically, Anniversary is never much more than workmanlike. At the same time though, Patrick Kong has got good performances out of many of the film's cast members; with Leila Tong (who plays Bo's best friend) standing out, particularly in a heart-tugging scene which takes place in her young daughter's bedroom.  Cantopop singer-actress Stephy Tang also deserves kudos for her willingness to portray a character who is hard to like at times, and just plain hard-hearted in others.  Lastly, while Alex Fong Lik Sun may not have the strong cinematic presence of Alex Fong Chung Sun, he shows in this movie that he has considerably more acting ability than would be expected of a good-looking former swimming champion! :b
My rating for this film: 6.5

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