HOLD YOU TIGHT (Yue kuai le, yue duo luo) A-
Hong Kong (93 mi) 1998 d: Stanley Kwan
I fear tragedy will recur
I am fated in my fate
To be out of touch with what’s beautiful
History repeats itself
In this bustling city
It is not possible
To love without undercurrents
What use is there for me to go on cherishing you?
If I hold you tight this time
Will it not be another empty embrace?
Still quietly waiting
For you to say I’m too sensitive
I have a sense of foreboding about everything
And then I cannot open my eyes to see fate arrive
And then clouds gather around the skies
⸺“Undercurrents,” written by Lin Xi, sung by Faye Wong, 1977, 王菲 - 暗湧 YouTube (4:22), reorchestrated and sung by Anthony Wong for the film, 暗湧 黃耀明-愈快樂愈墮落(Hold You Tight)電影結尾 插曲 YouTube (3:37)
On the surface, this is a film about people and relationships. Beneath the surface, it’s a study of the way people in Hong Kong – including myself – have reacted to the ‘1997 issue.’ I didn’t set out deliberately to deal with either the 1997 issue or the gay issue, but I find myself more and more drawn to these questions. The film shows three ways of approaching relationships, and all of them are drawn from my own past experiences. —Stanley Kwan
A beautiful and dazzling film, provocative to the extent that personal anxiety is interwoven into the political uncertainty of the city’s postcolonial transition, moving in and out of moods, revealing the high-powered modern landscape of Hong Kong at night, neon-lit, heavily populated, with a fast moving camera jarring our senses, then switching to more personal interiors, gyms, malls, swimming pools, bars, apartments, where the virtuoso camera artistry by Leung Ping-Kwan in just his second feature film reveals slow languid moments of quiet, solitary reflection that mirrors isolated, alienated souls. Kwan’s ability to elevate the city’s historical context into his films, where the streets, the back alleys, the food vendors, the bars, or the musical set pieces all come to life within the telling of the story, so the audience literally gets a “feel” for this place in time. The film is intentionally ambiguous about identity and confusingly uses the same actress, the lovely Chingmy Yau in her last movie role, playing two different parts, although that is not clear until the end, written specifically with her in mind. Both are at the airport at the beginning of the film, one (Moon), a business executive, gets on the plane to Taipei and perishes, as the film follows her shy, surviving spouse, Fung Wai (Sunny Chan), a good looking but repressed computer programmer, while the other similar looking actress (Rosa), a clothing boutique owner, forgets her passport, never boards the plane, and survives, ending up in Taiwan. While Kwan is known for women’s pictures and daring performances, this film explores repressed sexuality through a trio of Chinese men, two of them revolving around the quietly sullen Wai who is devastated by the tragic plane accident, including Jie (Lawrence Ko), a Taiwanese immigrant in Hong Kong who is strangely attracted to Wai, whose constant presence hovers around and near him throughout, though always indirectly, like a shadow figure, never making his intentions clear until the end, while Tong (Eric Tsang), an openly gay real estate broker also develops a secret longing for Wai, openly befriending him, but never revealing his secret crush, with Tsang winning the Golden Horse award for Best Supporting Actor, easily the most appealing character in the film, exuding warmth and humor throughout. An intricate web of relations drives the plot, largely fueled by underlying homoerotic desires, revealed at the outset in a gay bathhouse cruising scene, men checking out other men, with Tong spontaneously picking up a naked stranger, leading to graphic sex and an eruption of intensity. A jolting cut to his professionally dressed business demeanor comes as a shock to the system, yet this emphasizes the multi-faceted aspect of living in a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, always in constant flux, where one is expected to play multiple roles.
This is the first Kwan film after coming out in 1996 as the first openly gay Asian filmmaker, also a year after the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong to Mainland China, expressing a sense of profound alienation, perhaps expressing the internalized pain of living a closeted existence, using the Tsing Ma Bridge leading to a newly built airport as a metaphor for Hong Kong’s uncertain post-1997 future, reflecting a transition from the old Hong Kong airport depicted in the opening scene. There’s even an early television announcement of the death of Communist leader Deng Xiaoping, marking a clear delineation from pre-handover times to postcolonial. Told in non-linear fashion, the film is actually divided between two cities, opening in Hong Kong, moving to Taipei, which serves as Hong Kong’s alter ego (also a way of honoring Taiwanese cinema), and then back again, viewed as mirrored locales with shared destinies of returning to the motherland, examining displaced characters that inhabit both cities, with a pronounced undercurrent of homosexuality commenting on that displacement. Tong catches a glimpse of Wai while waiting for a train and instantly falls for him (completely unaware that he’s being followed by Jie), then sees him again later in a restaurant, discovering he’s alone, and offers to help him sell his apartment, befriending him in the process, learning of his heterosexuality, still finding excuses to be with him, making it appear that his motives are strictly platonic, but viewers know otherwise, causing his sexual ambitions to be displaced and unfulfilled. In Tong’s own apartment, kept as a reminder of an ex-lover, there is a movie poster prominently displayed on the wall of Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness (Bei qing cheng shi) (1989), which becomes one of the alienated symbols in the film, accentuated by frequent orchestral variations of the Rolling Stones song, Rolling Stones As Tears Go By 1966 - YouTube (2:27), the same name as Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s 1988 film, a reflection of the character’s mixed emotions, honing in on the instability and inner turmoil of the young widower. There are flashbacks of Wai’s marriage, happy days when he and his wife picked out the apartment, but also days of avoidance and loneliness, experiencing marital difficulties with Moon, who seems to enjoy bossing him around. They were beginning to discover a renewed interest in one another the night before she died. In more flashbacks, this time his wife’s memories, not known to the husband, she was having an affair with Jie, a poolman from Taiwan, who can be seen observing the husband when the wife disappears, developing a fascination for Wai, continually following him, where his attraction to Moon seems inherently driven by a desire to get closer to him.
Completely unpretentious, what stands out here is Tong’s friendship with Wai, clearly cultivated by chance encounters, yet due to his middle age, no longer looking youthful, he seems to rule out any possibility of another romantic relationship, so instead he channels his sexual interest into helping others, exhibiting a generosity of spirit towards other men. When he learns Wai’s wife has died, they go out for drinks where he sympathetically listens to Wai’s deepest sorrows, offering a comforting shoulder, becoming a loyal confidant, even inviting him home for a gourmet dinner with wine, describing himself as an illegal immigrant who often has to hide his identity, yet he’s open to Wai about his sexuality, but nonetheless hides his love. When the more youthful Jie enters the picture, he’s been stalking Wai for some time, and even gets a job as a bartender at a gay bar he and Tong frequent, finally learning of Moon’s fate, overhearing Wai lamenting the loss of his wife, where a drunken Wai has to be driven home afterwards by Jie and Tong, with Jie insisting he needs no help in getting Wai back into his apartment, rolling him into bed while he examines his home, staring at the photos of Moon, finding the cologne he gave to her, then branding the sleeping Wai’s backside with it, like an animal marking his territory. Though he kept Tong waiting for quite a while, when Jie starts to offer an explanation, Tong quickly cuts him off, “I have no interest in your story,” leaving him in a state of denial and self-pity. This moment contrasts with sentimentalized earlier depictions of Jie and Moon happily chasing each other by the sea, frolicking like young lovers, holding hands, having sex on the beach, all set to a romantic pop ballad, offering a kind of generic, old-fashioned version of young love, sequences that stand apart from the rest of the film, as if set in a different time period. Jie eventually returns to Taiwan where he discovers Moon’s double, Rosa, but she is an earthier, more promiscuous woman, a false reflection in the mirror of memory, leaving him in a state of emotional flux, still obsessed by a sexual longing for Wai, with Rosa helping him reconcile his unreturned feelings, finally leaving Wai a mysterious telephone message that apparently explains all, that we never hear. While there is a flamboyant gay disco scene in Taipei where film critic Tony Rayns makes an appearance, there is also a reference to the Powell and Pressburger film THE RED SHOES (1948), a reminder of the British colonial legacy, as Rosa lays in her bed watching it on television. Near the end of the film Wai turns to Tong for support, both looking out over the water, with Tong suggesting he can see China, notorious for its autocratic control over all aspects of Chinese culture, comparing his own life to the lives of illegal immigrants (or more likely, the invisibility of an LGBT community on the mainland), suggesting he could never live in hiding like those on the mainland. Despite his outward gay leanings, however, and his perception of being liberated, his real love for Wai remains hidden throughout. The film explores these parallel lives, each character confused about their sexual identity, a frequent theme of Hong Kong films as they convert to Chinese rule, where the drive across the Tsing Ma Bridge at the end is literally a bridge to the future.