Autumn Moon (1992)

Director:  Clara Law
Cast:  Masatoshi NagasePui-Wai LiChoi Siu Wan 
Plot:  Twentysomething Japanese tourist, Tokio, comes to Hong Kong looking for good cusine. He does all that the tourist is expected to do, but is disappointed with the food so far. By chance, he meets 15-year-old Pui Wai. She's been left behind with her eighty-year-old Granny, her parents too busy with their immigration problems in Canada.

Genre:  Drama / Comedy
Awards:  -
Runtime:  108min
Rating:  R21 for sexual scenes.

Screened as part of the monthly World Cinema Series at the National Museum of Singapore.

Firecrackers pop and hiss as they light up the night sky.  It is the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong.  That is the beautiful final shot of Autumn Moon, a layered film with two central characters who only communicate in basic, broken English. 

One is a Japanese man in his thirties called Tokio, a backpacking tourist of sorts, who longs to try the best traditional cuisines in town.  The other is a young schoolgirl whose curiosity is piqued when she finds Tokio fishing alone along the harbour.  They develop a relationship with each other, not a romantic one, but a friendship that plays out quite unconventionally. 

Made in the early 1990s by director Clara Law, Autumn Moon is strangely appealing.  It does not fit into the mould of Hong Kong cinema as we know it, from a genre and storytelling standpoint.  It is not a love story, neither is it a drama about triads and vengeance.  Instead it works as a relational bridge between two characters who are inflicted with existential questions about the meaning of life (and of relationships) as they set about their lonely journeys into an uncertain future. 

The girl is going to Canada to study, but her grandmother (the only family she has at home) knows the girl’s parents won’t take her there, whereas Tokio is haunted by a failed romance many years ago as he seeks solace in sex with a woman he previously was acquainted with.  The performances are quite excellent and the chemistry between the two leads is best described as innocently charming. 

The film has a unique visual style, a mash-up of different shot textures from still shots of the two characters standing along the harbour that is quietly reminiscent of Ozu, to tracking bird's eye view shots of the eerily distant HK cityscape, to handheld videocam shots of reflective surfaces like glass windows of passing buildings. 

There's a feeling of transition that Autumn Moon emits, that of time passing and people just... passing through time, with a lack of emotional or contemplative connection to their own existence.  The film is funny in its depiction of cross-cultural communication, as the leads struggle to understand each other. 

But they find some kind of happiness, however fleeting, together.  It is this fleeting quality of impermanence, not only of happiness, but of other emotional and psychological human states of being that Law successfully achieves with this picture. 

Verdict:  A Japanese man and a Hong Kong schoolgirl try to find meaning in their lonely existence as they are faced with uncertainties of the future in this thoughtful and introspective drama.

GRADE:  B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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