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Green Tea
  |     review    |     availability     |


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment

16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Removable English and Chinese subtitles

Chinese: 綠茶
Year: 2003
Director: Zhang Yuan
Writer: Tang Danian, Zhang Yuan
Cast: Jiang Wen, Vicki Zhao Wei
The Skinny: Beautifully photographed drama which intrigues, but doesn't truly do much more than that. Still, director Zhang Yuan creates fascinating atmosphere, and Vicki Zhao and Jiang Wen are mesmerizing.

by Kozo:

Green Tea is potentially surprising cinema, so if you're one of those people who absolutely hates hearing a film's plot—but strangely likes to read reviews anyway—then it's probably best for you to stop reading now and just go watch this movie cold. Hopefully you'll like it, but if not, sorry. If you had read this entire review maybe you would have been able to make a more informed decision, but doing so could incur your wrath as certain plot points WILL get revealed. It's just the nature of the beast. You can't write about something if you spend all your time trying to be cursory. Or, you could just stop at this sentence: Green Tea is intriguing cinema that's beautifully made, but may not truly amount to much. There. Please decide now.

For those still reading, Vicki Zhao Wei stars as Wu Fang, a bookish graduate student who's termed as unattractive because she wears unstylish glasses and unflattering, frumpy clothes. Wu Fang frequently goes on blind dates with men, engaging in conversation while sipping on her signature drink: green tea. She claims she does this to find a suitable husband, but her dates seem to be more of a time killer than anything else. She frequently ditches her blind dates halfway, and spends most of her date time relating the tale of her friend's parents, who were a truly messed up couple. Wu Fang also has good reasons for being picky; many of the blind date candidates are annoying louts.

Enter Chen Ming-Liang (Jiang Wen), who looks to get the "annoying lout" label in record time. Chen turns off Wu Fang by probing too deeply into her personal life, and then propositioning her outright for a visit to a love hotel. The affront earns him a slap in the face, but Chen seems intent on discovering more about Wu Fang. Having broken up recently, Chen is lonely, and there's just something about Wu Fang that keeps him coming back for more. She's standoffish and temperamental, but allows him enough slack to keep him hanging on. Meanwhile, Chen pursues another woman: a charming piano player named Lang, who's an easier date, as evidenced by the number of men who want her. Outgoing and sexily attired, Lang offers herself as a "friend" to men in need. She also looks astonishingly like Wu Fang, meaning they're either the same girl, or all of this is just Chen Ming-Liang's fever dream. Or is it?

Told in endless two-shots of Vicki Zhao Wei and Jiang Wen chatting it up, Green Tea could win an award for "how to make a film in twenty days or less." The film's action is confined to the frequent sight of the actors consuming beverages in coffee shops and bars, which is actually much more interesting than it sounds when Christopher Doyle is your cinemagtographer. The famed Wong Kar-Wai lenser earns his keep and then some, using exquisite framing and evocative shots of swirling green tea leaves or curling cigarette smoke to enliven the screen. His work starts off rather mundane, limiting itself to standard framing and more natural color contrasts, but as the film takes its more intriguing twists and turns, Doyle changes things up with alternating, improbable color schemes, and deliberately creative framing techiniques. Director Zhang Yuan's use of sound is as deliberately paced and effective. If one were to ignore story and simply concentrate on image, sound and mood, then Green Tea should prove satisfying.

Still, the story does prove interesting, which is remarkable when you consider that Green Tea is eighty-five minutes of two people just talking. Each scene brings a new installment in Wu Fang's tale of her "friend", which isn't exactly that compelling. What is compelling is how Jiang Wen and Vicki Zhao manage to glue the viewer's eyes to the screen. Each actor does a marvelous job with the spare screenplay. Jiang Wen is roguishly charming as the lovelorn Chen, and Vicki Zhao brings riveting screen presence and an alluring opaqueness to her mysterious role. Regardless of whether or not the movie truly speaks to them, fans of the actors should probably check out Green Tea pronto. At the very least, Vicki Zhao's legion of male admirers will get eighty-five minutes of luxurious, wide-eyed close-ups. This may be an art film meant for contemplative introspection, but those with more direct motives may still be interested.

On the whole, though, it's hard to say that Green Tea truly amounts to that much. Zhang Yuan seems to be exploring Wu Fang's unfathomable depths as much as Chen Ming-Liang's journey through the rat-maze of urban love. Much is left open in Green Tea, and as a result, things tie up in a rather indeterminate manner. Characters are given room to breathe and grow, but revelations and drama-hinging confrontations don't occur. In the end, it all seems to be about the atmosphere, and going where the spectacular mood and unpredictable nuance takes you. Like its namesake, Green Tea can be refreshing and even satisfying. But really, it's not much of a meal. (Kozo 2004).

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen