Monday, March 26, 2012

Crossing Hennessy

Easily one of my favorites from 2010, Crossing Hennessy is one of those movies that make for pleasant and easy viewing, having one of the cutest and probably most misleading trailers produced to entice people to see it. Be forewarned, it's not as romantic or funny as it was made out to be, but fans of Ivy Ho would no doubt still appreciate and recognize the said writer's style and fondness for metaphors in this latest offering. Another thing that might be of interest to viewers is that not only does this movie mark the return of Tang Wei to the big screen, it also happens to be Ivy Ho's second directorial feature.

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Proving that a cup of tea, an egg tart and a mutual interest in mystery novels can be as good as any device to jumpstart a relationship, Crossing Hennessy is one of those love stories that decidedly leaves out much of the giddy romance in favor of brewing a more stable and organic relationship between the two characters presented onscreen. Typical of an Ivy Ho film, it explores an aspect of love with thoughtful regard to everyday, real-life circumstances, making it fairly ordinary despite its whimsical appeal. Light, thoughtful and quirky, it might not necessarily fit the bill of a typical Hong Kong romantic comedy, but it's certainly worth taking a look at for its simple and unpretentious treatment of what it's like for a person to let go and move on.

Opening with a low-key and uneventful first meeting, Crossing Hennessy brings together two people who at first glance appear to have nothing in common and follows them through a series of innocent encounters that would later allow them to form a bond  that's strong enough to help them make a decision upon reaching their own proverbial crossroad. Arguably more of a belated coming-of-age film than a romantic comedy, Crossing Hennessy makes a case for a normal, healthy relationship by pitting the mundane against the dramatic, with the intimation that maybe true love need not be so complicated nor toxic. 

You learn to let the small things go so that you can take a stand on bigger issues. That's how it goes.

Loy (Jacky Cheung) is a bachelor with no dreams or motivation. At forty, he still lives under the roof of his imperious mother (Paw Hee-Ching)  and is spoiled by his dutiful aunt (Chu Mi-Mi), content to spend the rest of his days dallying about, occasionally dreaming of his deceased father.

Set to inherit a family-owned appliance store, his mother believes that the only way for him to get his act to together is to marry him off to force him to think about the future. To accomplish this, his mother sets him up on another matchmaking session, this time with the so-called "queen of bathroom fixtures", Oi-Lin (Tang Wei), whose aunt and uncle own a shop on Lockhart Road. So Loy gets introduced to an equally reluctant Oi-Lin over dimsum and tea, where the chatter of their chaperones and go-between drown out the awkward silence that surround their firm resolve to part as strangers. They get through the whole affair without so much as exchanging a word but since their relatives were not the type to be easily discouraged, the two once again find themselves forced to be together.

After breaking the ice by openly admitting that they're not interested in each other, the two eventually settle on building an easy-going friendship, one that would allow them to humor their well-meaning relatives and lead them to come to terms with their personal woes---he's hung up on a recently divorced ex-girlfriend (Maggie Cheung Ho-yee) with whom he's reconnected with, while she's fiercely committed to lending support to a hot-headed boyfriend (Andy On) who's facing time in jail for several legal infractions.

Falling neatly under the category of slice-of-life cinema, Crossing Hennessy is a prelude to a love story wherein the romance between its two protagonists is merely hinted at rather than exhibited for public view. The film leaves out much of the amorous encounters and saccharine dialogue ever present in your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy and deliberately channels the viewer's attention to ordinary events and everyday objects as a testament to the fact that not all unions have explosive or fiery beginnings. Going against movie convention, Loy and Oi-Lin's relationship develop gradually, without warning---some might even be surprised by Loy's sudden admission of being in love when all signs point to a platonic relationship.

Indeed, love at first sight has no place in this film, neither do sparks or fireworks that burn bright and consume one's being. As many would no doubt observe, the pairing makes more sense from an intellectual standpoint, it does not blatantly appeal to the emotion, being a film without overt romantic gestures. It has a narrative that comes to a slow simmer; and as expected of any Ivy Ho Film, it's not an instant crowd-pleaser but more the type that lends well to multiple viewings, with some odd surprises in store. On the upside, it's rather craftily set up to propose thoughts on what makes a relationship endure. For example, it's been suggested that a woman in the long run would prefer a sense of humor over brute force and that a man who's truly in love would endeavor to do right by someone on his own accord. In this regard, Ivy Ho remains consistent with her body of work---whether or not you're a fan of hers, a majority of her films continue to explore love and its different dimensions.

In the sentimental wringer, Comrades: Almost a Love Story, time and chance play a crucial role in bringing two people together; in July Rhapsody, a secondary-grade teacher undergoes a mid-life crisis when faced with temptation and infidelity; while in Claustrophobia, two carpooling co-workers embark on an affair, made possible by confined spaces and proximity. With maybe the exception of Comrades, most of Ivy Ho's films suffer from a dearth of physical interaction but what this does in the long run is highlight the ever so subtle shifts in her characters' emotions and the steady resolve that marks each story's turning point. Crossing Hennessy best exemplifies her preference for this particular method even though it might not end up pleasing all her viewers. The point of contention this time around being that nobody really knows how and when love ends, more so, how it begins.

To a certain extent, this is really a story about personal growth and new beginnings, perhaps a bit more of Loy's than that of Oi-Lin's. Some might even lament its simplicity and lack of dramatic incident but the identifiable situations the the characters go through as well as the symbolism of some events integrated into a dream sequence or a particular scene all the more make up for it. Jacky Cheung makes Loy such an easy character to like and relate to while Tang Wei is as lovely as ever as the prospective match who eventually lets her guard down while conversing over tea. The chemistry is not explosive yet the easy banter between the characters provide a good fit and is in keeping with the movie's light, comedic tone.

 Photo credits: Stormedelf at Asianwiki.com


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