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2014年8月16日 星期六

Three Charmed Lives (三生)





I had a late night affair last night at the cosy new Cine Grand now relocated to the Grand Century Place in Mongkok and there encountered "Three Charmed lives", whose sole link appears to be different forms of psychological isolation. They also share another feature in common: all were done by East Asia's top actors turned directors. In chronological order, they are: Hong Kong's Francis Ng 吳鎮宇"s  "The Tangerine" (《橘子》; Korea's Jung Woo-sung( 鄭雨盛 ) 's “The Killer Behind The Old Man.”《殺手與老人》 and Chang Chen’s (張震 )'s “Inchworm,” 《尺蠖》.


I wonder why the lives of the 3 protagonists are described in the collective title as "charmed". From what I saw, " jinxed" would seem a much better description. The first story, Tangerine, is about the adventures of a fugitive who failed in his attempt even at suicide. We see behind obvious signs of "progress" of Shenzhen, its imposing glass and steel structures and its indifference to flesh and blood human beings at the margin of society: tramps making a plastic sheet hovel at the some street corners under a flyover, "human organ" hunters roaming the streets, luring tramps with their doped hot buns. However it's not all heartless. There still appears a glimmer of hope from the people at the lowest rung of the social ladder, a teenage girl fruit seller with a heart of gold offering her tangerines to the "hero" for free, time and again, out of sheer humanity, something which however didn't save him from  eventual capture by the officers of the Public Safety Bureaus.  The only other sign of that common humanity hasn't completely died out is the quick hand of another old bum who saved the fugitive's life by striking off from his lips the poisoned buns by member of the "human-organ selling racket" and sharing his food and drink and his make-shift tent with him. But during the night, they were mugged by the organ-hunters. The fugitive  managed to fight them off but the old bum died in his arms. He was glad to go after 17 years of such purposeless survival.  

The second story seems much less dramatic. It tells of the mental struggle of a professional killer who got an offer to bump off an old man. He made meticulous notes of the old man's daily routine and had many chances of doing him in but hesitated perhaps because he felt that the old man is as lonely as he? The killer however seem to enjoy Western symphonic music and operas and modern painting. The price for his "job" kept rising until it became irresistible. But he chose his moment well. He waited until the old gentleman was asleep in his own bedroom. He used a needle so that the old man could go in peace. Money and humanity, an eternally unresolvabable paradox.  I like its almost Chekhov like distance and the paucity of dialogue and the calmly prowling cinematography.

The final piece from Taiwan tells of the story of how loss of job could impact the psyche of the employee of some young investment bankers. The hero withdrew into the world of video games and could not lift himself out again, shifting the burden of shouldering family finance upon the back of his wife all by herself whilst he contented himself with cooking, looking after their 6 year old girl and his virtual world of electronic games and music from his headphone, shut off forever from the world of finance, moving literally like an "inch-worm" . His only remaining link with reality seem his daughter seen many times to be leading him instead of following him towards real life. 

Whilst none of the 3 films are spectacular in any way, they are saved by the excellent performance of the actors Cheng Taishen as the fugitive and Zhang Xinyuan as the innocent looking fruit seller in the first film; Andy Choi as the cold, calm, and professional killer in the second and Jung-chang (Stone) as the mindless father and husband totally lost and engulfed by the  make-belief virtual world of electronic game. Though the 3 shorts are nothing to rave about, they do make pause to think what our world has come to and what it is doing to the lives of the ordinary folks and the price we pay for our economic growth. Of the three, I like the second one best. I like its rhythm, its "objectivity" and its total lack of exaggeration, helped in no small part by its music.