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Cherry Blossoms
   |     review    |     notes     |     availability     | "Is it hot in here, or is it just me?"
Chow Yun-Fat sweats it out
AKA: When Tat Fu Was Young
Year: 1988
Director: Eddie Fong Ching-Ling
Producer: Chua Lam
Writer: Eddie Fong Ching-Ling
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Terence Fok Tak-Wah, Wong Kwok-Ling, Muthumi Itakura, Sachiko Nakamura, Gam Hing-Yin, Lee Chi-Ngai, Eddie Fong Ling-Ching
The Skinny: A celebrated poet reminisces about his life as a student in Japan in this flat, often frustrating drama from director Eddie Fong. Despite his headliner status, Chow Yun-Fat gets less than ten minutes of screen time. Certainly, that would be a forgivable offense if the performances and plot were up to snuff. Unfortunately they're not.
Review by
     Chow Yun-Fat gets top billing in this disappointing story of a famous poet searching for a pair of long-lost friends in the wake of World War II. While questioning some Japanese soldiers, Yu Tat-Fu (Chow Yun-Fat) reflects back on his years as a youth studying in Japan. While there, the teen Tat-Fu (Terence Fok) has a chance meeting in a bathhouse with the attractive Lung—a brief encounter that forever changes him. But to his bitter disappointment, the pretty stranger disappears out of Tat-Fu's life almost as quickly as she entered, leaving him with nothing but her memory to console him. And console him it does, but that's another story, believe me!
     However, once he gets to school, lost love turns out to be the least of Tat-Fu's worries. Although academically sharp, he finds it difficult to cope with the demanding practices of his Japanese superiors and the almost constant racial discrimination that comes with his education. Luckily for Tat-Fu, he soon befriends an older Japanese student, Isao, who takes our scrawny young hero under his wing. Of course, Lung re-enters the picture at this point, causing the two former friends to become rivals in love. Tragedy results, but not in the way one might expect. Oh, and speaking of unexpected, did I mention that this "absorbing, heartfelt tale" (if you believe back cover blurbs), has a running gag about Tat-Fu's propensity for masturbation? Yeah, that's the "consolation."
     Cherry Blossoms isn't a terrible film; it just feels like a blown opportunity for something greater. It's got the words "tender coming of age story" written all over it, but the movie misfires on almost every level. Using Chow Yun-Fat to anchor the beginning and ending of the film works well, but it's the meat of the story that fails to satisfy. In terms of the main romantic plot, there's little in the film to suggest why Tat-Fu falls so madly in love with the ditzy Lung, other than the fact that he got a nice peek at her body during the bathhouse scene. Such slight motivation explains his lust, but it doesn't make Tat-Fu's idealized romantic yearning for her very compelling. And although it's probably by design, the movie maintains such a stifling and repressed atmosphere that it actually becomes frustrating to watch at times. There are glimmers of heart and humor every so often, but ultimately those possibilities go nowhere.
     In the backdrop, the film tries to be a commentary on everything from Sino-Japanese relations to teen suicide, but the subjects are thrown together in such a haphazard way that none of them can truly register with the viewer. The film pales in comparison to Hong Kong 1941, which also starred Chow Yun-Fat and featured a similar, but more evocative love triangle amidst times of volatile Sino-Japanese conflict.
     The performances are nothing to get excited about. Chow Yun-Fat performs well in what is basically a glorified cameo, but director Eddie Fong Ching-Ling's baffling decision to shoot the actor mostly in profile doesn't help establish the kind of dramatic intimacy necesary to make the film work. Despite Chow's presence, there's still a slight disconnect between the elder Tat-Fu and the audience, a misstep that the film never truly recovers from. Terence Fok does what he can in the role of the young Tat-Fu, but one can't help but wonder what could have been if a different actor had been cast—especially one who could channel the obvious charisma present in Chow's portrayal of the elder Tat-Fu.
     The film's bleak ending won't win any fans either. Although probably meant to be a poetic capper to Tat-Fu's flashback, the sad turn of the events at the film's conclusion makes one question exactly why they suffered through the whole experience in the first place. Granted, the title "Cherry Blossoms" evokes a sense of beauty that is all too fleeting—an apt metaphor given the events of the story. But sadly, the film fails to establish any endearing sense of beauty to make us mourn for its eventual loss. In the end, we should just be glad it's over. (Calvin McMillin 2004)

• Shaw Brothers originally completed the film sometime in the mid-1980s and sold it to Golden Harvest. According to some reports, certain nude scenes in the film were added later against the wishes of director Eddie Fong, who subsequently disowned the 1988 version of the film.

Availability: DVD (HK)
Region 0 NTSC
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable Chinese and English Subtitles
image courtesy of Deltamac Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen