Dirs. Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai. Hong Kong, 2003. 102mins.
Softer compared to some of Johnnie To's recent fare like PTU, the latest offering by the prolific Hong Kong director is firmly planted with one foot in the West and the other in the East. Warner Bros Pictures first Chinese-language film Turn Left, Turn Right carries echoes of Hollywood features of the 1930s but set against a combination of Taipei exteriors and Hong Kong interiors.
Some audiences may well be bemused, deciding whether they are charmed by this old-fashioned romantic comedy or disappointed with it for being too traditional. Its best chance may be with over-twenty audiences, who might appreciate the delicate balancing act of a story whose symmetrical structure is almost self-defeating in its repetitions, but redeems itself every time by coming up with another twist at the last moment. That said it has enjoyed success in certain markets in Asia including number one openings in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
The plot evolves around an unlucky young couple of innocent lovers who miss each other in an amazing series of coincidences for the entire film, despite the fact that their path keep intersecting constantly. Only a major cataclysm, in the last reel, manages to reunite them.
John (Takeshi Kaneshiro), an aspiring violinist who supports himself by playing in eateries until some major European orchestra will discover him and Eve (Gigi Leung), who translates German horror stories into Chinese until she will be allowed to tackle her beloved poet Wiszlawa Szimborska (Poland's 1996 Nobel prize winner), run into each other in a park, discover they had met 12 years earlier as high school students, but are separated by a summer storm before they can get to introduce themselves again.
All they remember of each other are the serial numbers sewn on their high school uniforms - and this is the only way they are to be identified for the rest of the film. There seems to little chance of them meeting each other again, particularly since they allow themselves to be guided by a script that enjoys leading them astray every time they seem to be within reach of their goal.
Among the facts of which they are unaware - but the audience knows all along - are that they are next door neighbours, that their journeys through the city constantly bring them to the same places but moving in opposite directions, that they both order the same take away food from the same restaurant and that they are admitted into the same hospital at the same time.
Both of them are also assiduously and similarly courted by third parties, whom they each turn down in a similar fashion. In John's case, it is June (Shu Wei Lun) a take away girl who forces her presence on him, while in Eve's case, it is Dr. Hu (Edmund Chen), who, as soon as he lays eyes on her is instantly enamoured and refuses to take no for an answer. One of the script's twists brings June and Hu together, joining forces and doing their farcical best to keep the two lovers apart.
Working from a comic strip by Jimmy Liao, To and Wai rely heavily for comic effect on the parallel conduct of the two lovers who react in an identical manner to the identical circumstances the script puts them in. Images are as glossy and attractive as one would expect from a Hollywood romance, with Kaneshiro and Leung adequately blameless, handsome and romantic, while Shu Wein Lun and Chen supply over-the-top comic relief. Lesser comedies of this kind have been major international hits: just put Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in the lead.
Prod cos: Milkway Image, Raintree Pictures, Warner Bros
Int'l sales: Warner Bros. Hong Kong
Prod: Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai, Daniel Yun
Scr: Wai Ka-Fai,Yau Nai-Hoi, Au Kin-Yee, Yip Tin-Shing, based on the book by Jimmy Liao
Cinematography: Cheng Siu-Keung
Ed: Law Wing-Cheong
Prod des: Bruce Yu
Music: Chung Chi-Wing, Ben Cheung
Main cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Gig Leung, Shu Wei Lun, Edmund Chen, Terry Kwan, Hui Shiu-Hung, Lam Suet, Wang Te-Chih, Ku Wang Su-Chin