Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects:
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Everyone knows that relationships are complicated. Love can be both the best experience and the worst experience, but unlike men, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Director Stanley Law takes this complication one step further by crafting a Shakespearean romance about the forbidden love between a poor youth and a wealthy girl, and extends it across time to involve the girl's future daughter, who bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother back when she was young.
Chen Tian Song (Gordon Lam Ka-tung) is a poor kite-maker living in Kelantan who lives on the goodwill of others. One day, he bumps (literally) into Gao Man Hua (Chrissie Chau), an upstart and sexy city girl, who then seduces his apprentice (Rynn Lim), consequently worming her way into his quiet life. Tian Song is all too aware of the attraction he has to her, since she bears a striking resemblance to his first love. The film spends its time flashing back and forth between the present and past, where Tian Song is ne'er do well boy from the village who falls for Gao Shi Qin (also Chrissie Chau) at first sight on one of his excursions if eyeballing girls during PE. He proceeds to woo her, and it is not long before that the two are passionately in love. However, standing in the way of their love is Shi Qin's father, who owns half of the village's assets, and when the old man discovers that the two have been dallying behind his back, he sends his thugs to beat Tian Song up. The two resolve to run away, but considering Tian Song's current state, it does not end well.
Law seems adamant in making sure that we know that Chrissie Chau is the object of every hot-blooded male, as most of the shots of Chrissie feature her in a bikini on land, in a bikini in the water, or tastefully naked in the houses. In fact, in an early exchange between Rynn and Chrissie, the latter is shown having picked up her bikini top that fell out of her bag, for which she teases him. Meanwhile, Gordon Lam is made out to be an unkempt beggar of sorts, who spends most of the film brooding and reminiscing about his past love as opposed to kite-making. As the story progresses, we see how Tian Song won Shi Qin over, their passionate relationship (they have sex pretty often), and eventual separation, but we can only guess as to the reason why Man Hua aggressively decides to ingratiate herself into Tian Song's life, as her teasing attitude hint at more than an innocent agenda.
Without spoiling too much, the climax of the film is definitely one that is unexpected, disappointingly so. In light of the extensive planning of the film's narrative, the resolution feels contrived, making it obvious that the Law has no idea how this sort of relationship might play out in reality, thereby opts for the most twisted ending possible.
For the chronicling of the film is actually well-thought out throughout. Thematically, the film makes use of the wau bulan (traditional kite) as a metaphor for people who are unable to let go, and the symbol for Gao Shi Qin, who once remarked that she would like to be like the wau bulan to Tian Song, always in his grasp but free to fly in the sky. Unfortunately, Law fails to do the same for his characters, and their personalities have the consistency of overchurned cream. Tian Song and Shi Qin's connection never quite clicks because the impetus of their romance appears to be motivated by nothing more than adolescence. For the duration of the film, we are supposed to root for the two, but seeing that they never really thought out their relationship beyond 'love is all we need', it just leaves the cynics rolling their eyes.
However, tough as it is to invest in their relationship, this feeling does not extend to their characters, as acting wise, Chrissie Chau and newcomer Tedd Chan submit some of their best performances, showing great promise with a raw and emotional take on their characters, especially in the shocking scene of betrayal. Gordon Lam is underused here, considering that he is the film's biggest star. His scenes mostly require him to brood, cry or relay anger; three emotions that do not stray far from each other, but the actor makes up for it with his star power.
The single greatest hurdle to get over in watching "Paper Moon" is the fact that Tian Song had a relationship with Shi Qin almost twenty years before, so his attraction to Man Hua feels like pseudo-incest. Law attempts to bring a reality to the situation in his approach to the film's love scenes, though, and he is not afraid to show the characters hesitate in between kisses and embraces, letting the audience know that this is not some "in the moment" hook-up. As the story moves forward, Law tries to address the universal issues found in all relationships through these characters: unbridled emotion, bliss and regret. Sometimes this works well, but other times the characters' actions fall flat and dialogue seem farcical.
"Paper Moon" is, above all, a peculiar film. On the one hand, it is refreshing to see a Chinese film that actually has a plot that is layered, but on the other hand, like Man Hua, Law has not really thought out his plans, creating inconsistencies in his characters. And yet, we start to buy in to the love between Tian Song and Shi Qin thanks to strong acting by Chrissie and Tedd. Despite the sudden curveball and stiff screenplay, the most peculiar thing about "Paper Moon" is that it actually sort of works.Cinema Online, 21 January 2013