Movie Review

Love Education (2017) by Sylvia Chang

Original Name: Xiang ai xiang qin

Director: Sylvia Chang

Runtime: 120 minutes

Language: Mandarin

IMDB Link:

Sylvia Chang: Sylvia Chang Ai-chia, born in Taiwan and based in Hong Kong since the late 1970s, has had an astonishing and creative film career over the past 40 years in the field of acting, writing, producing and directing. In 1981, she made her directorial debut, Once Upon a Time, as well as winning the Golden Horse Best Actress Award for her performance in My Grandfather. Since then, she has appeared in more than 100 feature films, working with some of the best directors in the Chinese cinema. Undisputedly one of the most accomplished directors in the Hong Kong cinema, Ms Chang is renowned for the delicate portrayal of her female characters.

“[] to me home is where my family is and where my love is. Therefore, to me the distance occurs if you are searching for something outside that. I find that people nowadays are always searching so much for other things, material things, fame, richness, success, whatever, but that is really away from them, the distance became big and once you have searched in that direction you end up really away from where your heart really is.”

Love Education starts on such a wrong note that had me worried for a bit. It begins with the final moments of Huiying’s (Sylvia Chang, who also directed) mother on her dying bed. Visualizing a person’s final moments is always a tricky job, and Sylvia Chang’s use of frozen motion, dreamy out-of-consciousness visual and over-melodramatic score feel oddly artificial, given the context. Thankfully, Love Education picks up when the main plot kick in. Directed, co-written and acted by a long-lasting career Sylvia Chang (in that order of sufficiency), the story the serves as an examination of what constitutes love through three main women in different stages of their lives. Huiying wants to move her father’s grave close to her Mom’s as her final wish, the only issue with that is that his grave is looked after by his first wife, Nana (the veteran Wu Yanshu). Throughout the burial dispute between them, the women (including Huiying’s sheltered daughter Weiwei (Lang Yueting) has a chance to reevaluate their view on love and their own relationship.

At the centre of this storm is the old woman Nana. We soon learn that it was an arranged marriage and her husband left her within a year for Taiwan. The next time she met him again was him in a coffin. Yet it’s her role as wife/widow and her blind loyalty to the man who eventually betrays her that makes a tragic character. It might sound like her character begs for our sympathy but thankfully, Yanshu shows many new sides to the character. Her “pinching the ear” is both hilarious and tells us her more childish side, and her opening up Weiwei and her boyfriend adds up a lot to her complexity. Likewise, Huiying, whose fear of her coming retirement, her occasional issues with her husband plus her demanding personality make her a force to be reckoned with. Chang’s never shy on showing her character’s stubbornness, but at the same time never overplays it, so that she doesn’t come off as unbearable or unrelatable. It’s the film’s substantial character writing and moreover, the skillful acting of the main leads that make Love Education raise above it’s more hammy plot developments.

Then we have serviceable, albeit unremarkable outlook to Weiwei character. She has enough of her Mom’s strictness, she has a boyfriend who wants to move on to the next stage. As she gets closer to Nana, we can see that while their attitude about love and commitment might be different, their situations as womanhood aren’t that much different. Her singer boyfriend A-Da (Song Ning) doesn’t have much screentime but he does the best he could there. I particularly like the moment he lies down inside the coffin before making up his mind to leave. The film doesn’t delve into it much but I can understand the feeling where you’re inside the coffin, you have an urge to speed up because time doesn’t wait for anyone. The bright chemistry between Weiwei and Nana is also the film’s good touch as it brings out the best from the two characters.

Occasionally, Love Education serves as a social commentary on the ever-growing industrial society that it modernises everything with the cost of its past. Both Nana and Huiying’s trouble to find proof for her/her Mom marriage certificate for example. At one point, Huiying and her husband (Tian Zhuangzhuang) go back to the Street Office where they used to live just so that the place resembles nothing to the old place. Or the cycle of passing authorial responsibility that a simple proof just gets harder and harder. Most notably, Weiwei’s workplace, a reality program that goes out its way to meet audience’s interest by exploiting the privacy of Huiying and Nana. These factors provide another edge to the film, while never overwhelming the characters’ drama for it. Still, many of Love Education’s progressions aren’t subtle at all. It closes its thread well enough, but moments like Nana’s (photoshopped) picture with her husband got wet and blurred right at his face is a bit on the nose, the same goes for the many sub-subplots like A-Da’s ex partner or the Huiying’s husband student. Even though Mark Lee Ping-bing serves as a cinematographer, the film is unpolished in terms of visual, with often-time dull lighting. Love, and the importance of family, as Love Education suggest, might take different forms through many generations, yet at its core they’re almost the same.

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