Andrew Garfield, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, and five others received their first-ever acting nominations for 2017. While these actors are new to the Academy Awards, you may recognize them from their earlier work.
Gu Lian Hua (aka Love's Lone Flower) Anita Yuen stars as Yuenfang, a refugee originally from Shanghai who escapes the city to Taiwan following the Communists' civil war win in China in 1949. She works as a restaurant hostess, where she becomes a mentor to Juanjuan (Lilly Hsiao), who reminds her of her previous lover who took her affections, Wubao (Angelica Lee), who died during their escape to Taiwan. However, Juanjuan falls for a guest at the restaurant, a very unpleasant gangster, Ko, and they enter into a life of violence and drugs, leaving Yuenfang to come to terms with the fact that she may not see her again.
The plot for this film isn't very complex, in fact it's very easy to follow. What makes this film, though, is the Wong Kar Wai influence on the production values. The sets are gorgeous, there's an air of tension throughout the dialogue that takes place between characters, and the cinematography is beautiful. In fact, I'd say the pace of the film is much better than a WKW film, and indeed, I think the use of conversation (clearly down to the fact that there is a script) works very well. There is a clear attempt to use Christopher Doyle-esquire photography, but just as clear is the failure to emulate the beauty that Doyle brings to film. But then, that would always be a challenge.
Overall, the story and the characters have plenty of depth and the direction is good. Yuen may not be the best lead for this film, but the support she gets from Lilly Hsiao and the delectable Angelica Lee is superb, and they do bring this film to a new dimension.
Ultimately, I was impressed. I genuinely enjoyed the throwback to an era that continued from the glory days of Shanghai in the 1930s and 40s, and I very much enjoyed also the soundtrack that was attached. For art house fans, this is a good film, and well worth a visit to see. One superb film.
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