Friday, October 15, 2010

Cherie Chung Week: Fatal Love (1988)

A very handsome Leslie Cheung is "Chicken Wing" in this odd 1988 flick. Fatal Love opens like a murder mystery, and then turns into a ghost story as Leslie is captivated -- in a very 1980s music video-kind-of-fashion -- by Cherie Chung who is a ghost. Or something.

Hey, she's wearing a wig and a white dress so she's otherworldly. And others can't see her so there's that.

Fatal Love never fully explains the seemingly mystical moments at the start of the film so I feel like I should offer a warning about that as the film quickly descends into a more straightforward plot.

There's more than a hint of Vertigo in some of this but the film-making here is not Hitchcock-caliber either.

There's two big negatives one has to get out of the way when discussing Fatal Love: first, David Wu as Leslie's coworker is just so annoying in his scenes that one wants to throw beers at the screen like that scene in Animal House (1978) where the Delta house guys first see Stephen Furst's picture in the slideshow of new pledges.

Second, the score. The score to this thing is very 1980s, very keyboard-heavy BUT it's also very badly used; scenes that don't need music have loud music, scenes that are funny on purpose have loud music, and so on.

Okay, so Chicken Wing finds the grave of the Cherie Chung character which implies she is dead. So how did Leslie also grab her on multiple occasions earlier in the film?

So, Cecilia (Cherie Chung) -- alive but still in that bad wig -- meets up with Chicken Wing but there's a tussle at dinner and Chicken Wing gets roughed up.

Chicken Wing's girlfriend (Ann Bridgewater) is loyal and isn't aware of this mystery woman that the guy's pursuing. Until Cherie shows up at the hospital, that is.

Turns out that Cherie's Cecilia is the girlfriend of some Triad guy (Melvin Wong) and you can probably see where this doomed romance is going?

While Leslie is quite handsome here, he's really not suited to this role. Or, he was overplaying it a bit because he knew the film was not too good. He just seems unnecessarily giddy in some scenes.

As for Cherie, she looks lovely apart from the wigs and a few odd costume choices but she's really just meant to be in this to suffer. She's got to play the unhappy girl of a Triad figure so it's a thankless role.

One very nice scene with Ouyang Sha-Fei redeems the film as the scene feels natural where the rest of the movie feels very much an overstylized product of the 1980s.

Anyway, Cherie wants to leave the Triad guy and Leslie's annoying friend wonders why he's so obsessed with the girl.

There's another nice scene with Cherie and Leslie and Cherie's character's aged grandfather but that is not enough to necessarily recommend this otherwise impersonal film.

By that I mean that Fatal Love is overthought in a very specific 1980s way: the shots, lighting, and clothes all scream "1988" and that's not a good thing.

A few very good human moments with Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung are not enough to label Fatal Love as required viewing unless one is a fan of the actor and actress.

As I am, I sort of liked parts of Fatal Love quite a bit.

(I know I'm sounding like a schizophrenic in this review but Fatal Love just isn't an easy film to digest, dismiss, or recommend entirely.)

I'd even go so far as to say that those human moments actually seem like they were shot by someone else as they are that different in tone from the rest of this picture.

And as I polish up this review, my annoyance at some elements of the film is being washed away by those real moments of Leslie and Cherie on the bus, or Cherie talking with Ouyang Sha-Fei in the kitchen.

I don't want to oversell Fatal Love, but there's enough here to recommend it for other fans of a similar mindset, I guess.

You can order Fatal Love on DVD here.