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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ann Hu: Beauty Remains

movie posters published by Wabisabi in Iwa ni Hana
(where beauty moves and wit delights)

Two sisters meet again after long years of separation. Fei (Zhou Xun), an illegitimate child, had been forced to leave their home and constrained to poverty, while Ying (Vivian Wu) grew up surrounded by richness and affection. Now Ying calls her step sister to come back. The father has just passed away and his will requests the presence of both siblings and their reconciliation: otherwise the inheritance won't take effect.

To remake the bond is far from easy. There is genuine attraction between them, based on nostalgia for the times of early childhood, balanced by mutual suspicion. And, from the part of Fei, there is accumulated frustration which nurtures irresistible desires of revenge. She seduces Ying's lover and what follows is a pervert erotic competition pushing any certitudes toward the realm of moving sands.

Beauty Remains (美人依旧 - Mei Ren Yi Jiu), made by Ann Hu in 2005, is a movie in which the loss of certitudes plays on multiple plans. There is the loss of certitudes that have kept so far the moral universe of Fei. In the same time, as the action takes place in 1949's China, the Communists will soon take control over the country, and all certitudes of the universe where Ying and Fei have lived and competed will be lost. The two conflicting sisters, as well as their lover, will face a new world where they will be just bourgeois elements, with all consequences.

This movie calls in my mind one of the masterpieces of Chinese cinema , the 1948's Spring in a Small Town (and its superb 2002's remake crafted by Tian Djuang-Djuang): there also the tumult of passions inside of a family will be brutally ended by the coming Communist regime. The difference is that in Spring in a Small Town the heroes are not aware of their near future, while in Beauty Remains the whole fabric of passion is on the backdrop of Communists' advancement. Maybe also Dr. Zhivago would come to mind.

In such times of turmoil, on a personal level, also on the level of your country, is it anything that remains, when all else is lost? The movie of Ann Hu comes here with a great answer: when hope dies, and love fades, beauty remains. We can loose everything which is in our control, or in the control of society, but nobody has power on what comes from nature!

So, it is a movie about beauty, which cannot be lost, cannot be taken away. That means that beauty accompanies us in all our tribulations. Only we should observe that the way beauty takes shape depends on the state where we are. There is beauty in happiness, there is beauty in tragedy; there is beauty in times of accomplishments, there is beauty in decay.

I found a fascinating text about beauty in a Japanese blog (authored by Wasanabi). It is about the multitude of words that Chinese language uses for various nuances of beauty. When it comes to beauty in decay, a Chinese can use either 墮落美 [duo luo mei] or 頹廢美 [tui fei mei]. The first term, that duo-la-mei, designates a beauty that reminds us of a past state of innocence and induces a feeling of nostalgia (while in the same time perversely suggesting that the roots of the present decay were already there, in the longtime lost purity). As for the second term, tui-fei-mei, in this case beauty comes from our awareness that end is near. It is the superb beauty of the gambler who cannot escape his fate, as it is the special beauty of aristocracy in the dawn of revolution.

Beauty Remains was compared with some movies of Wong Kar-Wai: think at The Hand (WKW's episode in the triptych Eros), or at Days of Being Wild, and not only. The uncanny beauty of the images expresses the special beauty of those characters in decay, that tui-fei-mei.

A last word here about Beauty Remains: the nuanced solution found for Fei, this personage of lights and shadows. There is a very interesting statement made in this regard by Ann Hu (in http://asianmediawiki.com/Beauty_Remains):

During the script development process, I always felt Fei should gain our sympathies easily. But during the shoot, I struggled with Fei’s character as she loses her innocence and hurts the ones that love her most. Is she a good person? Are her actions justified because of her family history? Are any of us ever justified when we act upon our feelings and beliefs? I was torn between rushing to judge Fei and my feelings of compassion for her.

The solution wasn’t found until we shot the final scene. The lighting was dim, and though I couldn’t see her face through the monitor, I could feel Fei’s laughter and tears. At that moment, I knew I had gained the emotional balance that I was looking for

(Ann Hu)



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