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Si mian xia wa (1996)

 -  Drama  -  13 March 1998 (USA)
5.7
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Ratings: 5.7/10 from 32 users  
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Made up of four short stories. One, a lonely hooker can't stop crying whenever she has sex with her clients. She approaches a shrink and ends up stalking him. Two, a long suffering wife and... See full summary »

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Title: Si mian xia wa (1996)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Fai-hung Chan
Ping Ha
Eric Kot
Jan Lamb ...
(as Jan Lam)
Sai Lan
Sandra Kwan Yue Ng
Wyman Wong
Chingmy Yau
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Made up of four short stories. One, a lonely hooker can't stop crying whenever she has sex with her clients. She approaches a shrink and ends up stalking him. Two, a long suffering wife and the mistress of her husband bonds. Three, a weird tale of a lesbian avenging her comatose twin sister by killing her unfaithful boyfriend. And lastly, a woman one day suddenly decides that she had enough of her failing marriage and desperately seeks a reinvention of her life. Written by hitlerberries <spore>

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13 March 1998 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

4 Faces of Eve  »

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User Reviews

 
A dim sum indeed
18 March 2003 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

'Sei Min Ha Wa' is Cantonese for 'Four Faces of a Beautiful Woman', but there's a (possibly unintended) pun in the title. 'Min' means 'human faces', but it also means 'surfaces' ... and there's the Chinese rub, because this movie is all surfaces and no depth.

When I lived in Kowloon, I learnt a bit of Cantonese and Mandarin. Recently, hoping to practise my (limited) skills, I attended a screening of this movie at an Anglo-Asian film society. The movie's dialogue is in Cantonese, with bits and bobs of English and Mandarin. I viewed a print which had Chinese subtitles so that Mandarin and Japanese audiences could read the dialogue onscreen. The subtitles are (mostly) small and illegible, except when the art director makes them BIG and illegible with jumpy eye-wearying graphics. The narrative techniques in this movie are so chaotic, I suspect that even native speakers of Cantonese will have trouble understanding the action.

The movie tells four stories, with Hong Kong television comedienne Sandra Ng Kwan-yue starring in each. As with Tracey Ullman (another mildly talented tv comedienne who fancies herself a dramatic actress), these roles seem chosen to showcase the actress's range of disguises. Each story is brief, so we've little time for exposition or characterisation. Worse luck, the directors use all sorts of arty-tarty music-video techniques at the expense of coherent storytelling. I'll try to synopsise all four stories: if I make any mistakes, divide the blame between my imperfect knowledge of Cantonese and the filmmakers' aversion to straightforward story techniques.

#1: "Mao". Kwan-yue plays a prostitute who wants to be Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman'. Hoping to meet her Richard Gere, she stalks a psychiatrist (played by Jan Lam Hoi-fung, who also directed this story), but he tells her he's gay. She keeps tracking him to watery settings (a swimming pool, a riverbank, a car wash), giving cinematographer Chris Doyle some really splendid visual compositions. This segment seems to have been storyboarded as a series of pretty camera set-ups: nothing happens, but it all looks nice.

#2: "Moving in the Wind" (directed by Kwok-leung Gan, who scripted the first 3 stories). Kwan-yue plays a broken-down peasant whose sadistic husband (played by Man-fai Kwok, who directed the 3rd and 4th stories under the name Eric Kot) has abducted a sexy nightclub hostess. Lots of pretentious handheld camerawork here, and some cinema-verite that I found TOO unsettling. When Kwok bursts into a schoolroom, shouting and cracking a whip, a small boy toddles away screaming: this is plainly no act, and the boy is genuinely frightened. Kwan-yue is upstaged here by Kwok and by Karen Mok Man-wai (VERY sexy) as the hostess. Except for a brief prologue and one shot of a railway sign, this story has NO subtitles: tough noodles for you if you don't speak Cantonese. I'd swear that some of this segment's dialogue isn't ANY Chinese dialect: the actors occasionally seem to be speaking gibberish. In one bizarre scene, the hostess leads her customers in a half-Chinese, half-English rendition of 'Moon River': I burst out laughing when a Chinese actor (playing a drunk) tried to sing the phrase 'huckleberry friend'! Later, the customers sing 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon' with Mandarin lyrics, whilst the camera plays the P.O.V. angle of a karaoke screen.

#3: "Twins". Kwan-yue plays a wealthy lesbian who lives as a male: her physical impersonation of a Chinese man is impressive, but "his" narration on the soundtrack is obviously the voice of a biological male. The lesbian's twin sister is in a coma, the victim of a murder attempt. The lesbian impersonates her own sister to catch the murderer. Lots of scattered flashbacks and pretentious camera angles, including one sequence shown upside-down. When the camera takes the P.O.V. of the coma victim, a visitor who sprays scent onto the 'woman' must aim ABOVE the camera so the scent won't cling to the lens and destroy the illusion. Later, when a car drives into the frame, the convoluted camera angle makes it seem as if the car is driving down a vertical wall!

#4: "The Love Game". Kwan-yue plays a repressed housewife on a Hong Kong game show. (The tv show's compere is hilariously played by Hoi-fung, who scripted this segment.) Hoi-fung shows Kwan-yue hidden-camera footage of her husband having an affair, then offers her a prize if she can guess the identity of the other woman. Amusingly, this (fictitious) Hong Kong game show has all the vulgarity and greed of an American game show, lacking only the glitz and jackpots.

This four-course Chinese dinner adds up to a dim sum indeed. I'll rate 'Four Faces' 2 points out of 10: one point for the visual beauty of 'Mao', one point for Kwan-yu's only decent performance (in 'Love Game'). 'Bu hao' is Chinese for 'lousy'.


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