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1 item from 2006


22 February 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Screened at the Berlin International Film Festival

BERLIN -- "Isabelle" has a gentle, melancholy spirit as two characters look to the future while haunted by the past. During the chaotic, crime-ridden months before Portugal handed Macau back to China in 1999, a rogue cop named Shing (Chapman To), already under suspicion of corruption, brings home an underage hooker picked up in a sleazy bar. Then the girl, Yan (Isabella Leong), hits him with a huge whammy: She claims to be his daughter by a long-ago lover, who recently died. Thus begins two people's odyssey, tracked through the shadowy, decaying back alleys of Macau, toward a relationship neither is certain is desirable.

This Berlin competition film makes a fine festival entry and could do well in Asia where it has several marketing hooks. For one thing, director Pang Ho-cheung, who has made five films in rapid succession since 1999, has emerged as one of the leading Hong Kong new-wave filmmakers. Here he collaborates with To in his partner's first outing as a leading man and producer. Meanwhile, the beguiling Isabella Leong has enjoyed success as a pop singer in Asia as well as an actress.

The film gets off to a misleading start as the time frame is fractured and events are fuzzy, leading one to anticipate an arty deconstruction exercise where things remain unclear for most of the film. However, once characters get sorted out and Yan drops her bombshell, the film heads down a fairly straight-forwarded narrative path.

Pang (working from a script he wrote with Kearen Pang, Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wang) concentrates on character and mood without overplaying the emotional content. Macau itself becomes a third character in the movie, a stubborn, decadent city in transition, as are the two people.

Yan has turned for help to her womanizing father -- whom she has studied from afar but never approached-- only due to a financial emergency. Since she is four months behind on rent, her landlord has padlocked the flat with her dog, Isabelle, inside. When Shing confronts the landlord, the man snorts that he threw the dog out on the street.

This launches an extensive dragnet of the neighborhood by the older man and young woman, searching for the missing canine. Meantime, the homeless girl moves temporarily into her father's one-bedroom flat.

The film's incidents are casual, even muted. Yan puts off a classmate (Derek Tsang) with a huge crush on her by insisting that Shing is her new lover. Fellow cops and crooks wander into Shing's path, offering oblique warnings about the corruption charges. (He's guilty but who wants to be a fall guy?) Flashbacks show Shing as a young man bringing Wan's mother (J.J. Jia) to an abortion clinic, and then abandoning her before she goes through with the procedure. The memory is still fresh for Shing.

One amusing sequence has Yan, assuming the role of Shing's live-in lover, turning away a succession of girlfriends who come to the door. One girlfriend proves her equal in deception: She insists that any girlfriend of Shing's must drink so challenges Yan to see who can drink whom under the table.

Cinematographer Charlie Lam has one of the world's greatest sets to work with -- the amazingly colorful/drab/vital/decaying back streets and alleys of Macau. Throw in Peter Kam's melancholy, Portuguese-influenced music involving piano and guitar and you get a wonderfully lyrical atmosphere for this modest but emotionally satisfying character piece.


Media Asia Films/China Film group present a Not Brothers production


Director: Pang Ho-cheung

Writers: Pang Ho-cheung, Kearen Pang, Derek Tsang, Jimmy Wang

Story by: Pang Ho-cheung

Producers: Pang Ho-cheung, Chapman To, Jin Zhongqiang

Executive producers: John Chong, Yang Bu Ting

Director of photography: Charlie Lam

Production designer: Man Lim Chung

Music: Peter Kam

Costumes: Stephanie Wong

Editor: Wenders Li


Yan: Isabella Leong

Hua: J.J. Jia

Yan's suitor: Derek Tsang

Kate: Meme Tian

Shing: Chapman To

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 109 minutes »

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