The Sigh tells the story of an affair between a struggling Chinese screenwriter and his young female assistant, its effects on his marriage and the impact on the man himself.
The couple is thrown together at the start of the movie when the assistant is dispatched to the writer's plush digs outside of Beijing where he has gone to work on a script for a new television series. As soon as the writer notices his attraction to his beautiful assistant, he calls off the session and heads home to Beijing, only to have the affair start up upon their return to the city.
The writer, who was supposed to be home first thing in the morning, only arrives home at supper time, telling his wife that his agent took him to schmooze with some investors. (In order to facilitate the lie, the man buys a small bottle of booze before entering his house and takes a few sips). Thus begins the deception that will tear apart the family (the couple have a young daughter) and the man himself.
When the wife discovers the affair while visiting a hotel room where the man has been working, she asks for a divorce, which he accedes to. Ultimately, however, they decide only to separate. During the separation, while the writer is living with his lover, the wife falls from a ladder while painting and is hospitalized, an event which seems to bring the affair to its end. The man cuts off all contact from the woman as he cares for his wife. But as he has does several times in the course of the film, he always finds himself back with the other woman. He cannot leave her and he cannot leave his wife. He is truly a torn, unhappy man.
Just when you think things have finally cooled off--the end of the film shows him happy and laughing with his wife and childhe receives a phone call. And we can see from the look on his face that the man is still interested. (In an interview, Feng Xiaogeng has said the film originally contained a scene where the man rushes out to meet his lover but that this was cut by the censors.)
It is a story that has been told countless times and will doubtless be told as long as there are humans. For me, what sets this film apart is the depiction of the impact of the affair on the man himself. To anyone who has been on this end of things, you will know that there is nothing pleasant about it. In one of my favorite lines in any movie, the writer tells his friend/agent not to follow his lead and that if he should ever meet a goddess, to just walk away. And remember, he adds, there are no goddesses.
But just as the writer cannot for the life of him get over this other woman, so humanity must it seems eternally be faced with situations such as Feng XiaoGeng has so masterfully depicted.
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