Dir: Pang Ho-cheung. HK-Chi. 2006. 109mins.

Although it deals with corruption and features asuspended cop as its hero, Pang Ho-cheung's Isabella is no gritty action drama. Noris it a political piece, despite being set on the eve of Macau's return toChinese hands after 400 years of Portuguese rule. And while it introduces thetheme of incest in its first 10 minutes in, sexual politics are hardly touchedupon.

Rather Isabella functions as something of an uneven melodrama; unusualbecause it has no real romance. It often echoes the visuals and music of Wong Kar-wai but then has a serious problem in sustaining interestfor all of its 109 minutes.

Firstsuggested as a possible Forum entry for Berlin, its eventual slot in competitionprobably weighed too heavily on its frail shoulders. Tightened up, it could have a chance in morefestivals and find a niche in Asian catalogues, but hopes beyond that seemdoubtful at present.

Police inspector Shing (To), suspended from the force for suspectedcorruption, drinks, gambles and whores his nights away - until he discovers thathis latest sexual conquest, 17-year-old Yan (Leong), is an unknown daughter from an abandoned adolescentaffair.

As the two get to know eachother, the cop - who initially seems utterly unpleasant - gradually warms tothe high-school girl, who claims that all she wants is some cash to pay herrent and release her dog, Isabella.

But as they grow closerthrough a series of episodes that are stronger on mood than plot, it is evidentthat what she really needs is parental support, particularly after the death ofthe mother.

Throughout inter-titles remindthe audience of the impending Chinese takeover and the clean-up of the crime-riddenlocal police, as if to lend Isabella somekind of political significance

Pop singer-turned-actressIsabella Leong looks stunning as the impetuous Yan, a combination of sex siren and school girl, while ChapmanTo is adequate as the disgruntled cop strangelyoblivious to the predicament he finds himself in.

The art department packsevery frame with more tell-tale details than the script and Charlie Lam's camera oozes lush atmospheric shots, not only ofinteriors but also of the Macau landscape. Editing expertly jumps between thefrenetic and contemplative.

Peter Kam'ssoundtrack, with its sweeping melancholy tunes, evokes memories of Michael Galasso's work on Inthe Mood For Love.

Production company
Not Brothers

International sales
Media Asia Films

Executive producers
John Chong
Yang Bu Ting

Pang Ho-chueng
Chapman To
Jin Zhongqiang

Pang Ho-cheung
Kearen Pang
Derek Tsang
Jimmy Wan from original story by Pang Ho-cheung

Charlie Lam

Wenders Li

Production design
Man Lim Chung

Peter Kam

Main cast
Chapman To
Isabella Leong
JJ Jia
Derek Tsang
Meme Tian