Underlying qualms of a perfect middle-class family
Matthew M. Yau | San Francisco, CA | 07/20/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Chinese movie title of July Rhapsody is "Man at the Age of Forty". The man is Lam Yiu-kwok (played by Jacky Cheung), a secondary school Chinese literature teacher in Hong Kong. The film somehow evokes American Beauty starring Kevin Spacey, except Lam did not go as far as smoking weed and neither his wife Man-ching (played by Anita Mui) hate him nor his sons regard him with contempt. Lam is fed up with life-the perfunctory school politics and de-emphasis of Chinese language study, the plummeting zeal for justice of '89 Tienanmen massacre, the increasing charivari that shows disapproval of the SAR government, a torpid marriage and the bittersweet reminiscence of his mentor Mr. Seng. He desires a change in the beat of his life, an ecstasy to which he can escape and from which he finds solace. Lam's student Choi-nam (Karena Lam) seems to provide that solace, if not a guilty pleasure. She has a crush on Lam whose marriage turns cold as his wife suggests taking a month off to take care of Mr. Seng, whom suffered from a terminal stage of cancer. Mr. Seng had an affair with Lam's wife (who was 20 and not yet married to Lam) and the betrayal had always pricked Lam. Man-ching feels the scruple.The film unravels slowly, with jump cuts of different plots over different intervals of time, in a stream-of-consciousness technique. The story is told in the perspective of Lam's older son, a university student who reveres his father and seeks to break the ice in his parents' marriage. While the son pieces together vestige of his parents' troubled past, Lam draws closer into Choi-nam's forbidden fruit. Lam might be using Choi-nam as an escape from dealing with Mr. Seng and his wife. The relationship between Lam and Choi-nam, while somehow unusual, is far from risqué. The catch is that Lam is on the verge of repeating Mr. Seng's wrong some 30 years ago. July Rhapsody deftly exposes the qualms underneath a perfect middle-classed family. For Lam, the age-old unresolved relationship between Mr. Seng and Man-ching renders them bitter, distrustful and guilty. Combining with the political uncertainty after the handover, the stagnant economy, uprising unemployment and plummeting real estate values, Lam's qualms and the desire to escape from cruelty of life really hit home for many Hong Kongers.Anita Mui delivers a solid, convincing performance of a midlife housewife that is never known but refreshing to especially the Hong Kong audience. July Rhapsody is Ann Hui's best since Eighteen Springs; a movie adopted from Eileen Chang's timeless classics. 4.1 stars."