Dir. Carol Lai Miu-suet. Hong Kong/France, 2003. 100mins.
Not much happens in this quietly introspective tale of a young Hong Kong woman haunted by the untimely death of her lover. Unable to pick up the thread of her own life, she goes back to his home town to try and unravel the mystery of his last drawing, hoping that she will finally come to terms with his departure. Dealing with minute changes of moods and unfolding through the cold winter season that underlines the greyness of the story, Carol Lai Miu-Suet's second effort may be less doleful than her debut, Glass Tears (2001), and ultimately leads to an upbeat ending. But her minimalist procedure, all in delicate, barely perceptible plot moves, may be too much for most audiences. A typical festival entry, there is a distinct risk that it will find most of its audience on this circuit, despite a number of praiseworthy sensitive features. Film screened in competition at Venice: in Hong Kong it took $400,000 after two weeks.
After the death of her talented artist boyfriend, Sam (Ekin Cheng) following a long illness, the inconsolable Maan (Karena Lam) decides that the only way she can cope with the loss is to visit his birthplace, Qingdao, mainland China, and find the landscape that inspired his very last work, to understand why it meant so much to him. She rents a room there and starts roaming aimlessly around town until she is introduced to a postman, Lit (Liu Ye), as much of a shy introvert as she is and the only one who tries to help her in her search. As they walk together through the cold streets of the city, he timidly tries to establish a closer relationship with her but desists time and again.
This is because Maan is completely engulfed in her mourning rites, assiduously copying day by day the diary of her dead lover, even attempting to commit suicide and constantly obsessed by the idea that once she finds the mysterious landscape then she will achieve her final spiritual communion with him. The voice of the departed Sam goes on speaking to her, whether through the pages of his diary or the flashbacks of her memory but she is terrified by the realisation that, as time goes by, the memory fades away. She frets that once she will find the object of her search, her life will all of a sudden become empty and purposeless.
Emotionally going around in expanding circles, just like the characters themselves, The Floating Landscape is very much a woman's picture. Not only does it belong to Maan but also other characters like her landlady, separated from her husband and an old neighbour next door, whose ancient husband is always dozing on the porch. What they all have in common is their dependence on the male characters in their lives and their reaction once these companions are gone, though each perceives the shock in a different manner.
Lai keeps a respectful distance from her characters and never pries into their privacy registers the grief, notices the loneliness, choosing instead to merely register their grief and then show how each attempts to find their way back to normality. The theme is worthy and she has both a cast of soulful, sympathetic actors and, toward the end, some striking imagery. But Lai possibly expects too much of audiences in accepting the hesitant, slowly-paced plot.
Prod cos: Filmko Entertainment, Sil Metropole Organization,, NHK, Rosem Films
Int'l sales: Filmko Film Distribution
Prod: Stanley Kwan, Arthur Wong
Co-prods: Ueda Makoto, Sylvain Bursztein, Christine Ravet
Scr: Lai Miu-suet with Lai Ho
Cinemtography: Arthur Wong
Production des: Ben Luk
Music: Shigeru Umebayashi
Sound: Ken Wong, Phyllis Cheng, Dominique Vieillard
Main cast: Karena Lam, Liu Ye, Ekin Cheng