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A Complicated Story
Stephanie Che and Jacqueline Zhu in A COMPLICATED STORY

Stephanie Che and Jacqueline Zhu in A COMPLICATED STORY.

Chinese: 一個複雜故事  
Year: 2013  
Director: Kiwi Chow  
Producer: Shu Kei, Ding Yuin-Shan, Johnnie To Kei-Fung (exec prod.), Bill Kong (exec. prod)

Kiwi Chow, Shu Kei, Felix Tsang, Isis Tao, Yi Shu (original novel)

Cast: Jacqueline Zhu Zhi-Ying, Stephanie Che Yuen-Yuen, Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Zi Yi, Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi, Tina Lau Tin-Lau, Lo Hoi-Pang, John Sham Kin-Fun, Deannie Yip Tak-Han, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Leo Lee Ou-Fan
The Skinny: Glorified student film co-presented by Edko Films and Milkway Image is well-produced but too pretentious and stiff to engage general audiences. Jacquenline Zhu is OK in the lead role but requires more help from the filmmakers to convince that her character is special. Co-starring Jacky Cheung, which always deserves mention.
by Kozo:
When veteran filmmakers support the work of a new director we should show our appreciation. However, when the resulting film underwhelms, that appreciation is grudgingly given. Such is the case with director Kiwi Chow’s A Complicated Story, a glorified student film adapted from a novel by popular Hong Kong writer Yi Shu. Jacqueline Zhu stars as Liu Yazi, a mainland immigrant to Hong Kong who takes a sizable payday to become a surrogate mother for tabloid starlet Tracy T. (Cherrie Ying). Yazi is initially unaware of her sponsor’s identity, and only deals with lawyer Kammy Au (Stephanie Che) and fertility doctor Wan (Lo Hoi-Pang). But when Tracy T. cancels the deal, Yazi refuses to give up the child, running from her benefactors and turning to sometime boyfriend Law Chun-Ming (Zi Yi) for support. Then the biological father, famous tycoon Yuk Cheung (Jacky Cheung), gets involved, sending the whole situation spiraling into overcomplicated melodrama. Through all the clamor, Yazi perseveres.

A Complicated Story is separated into three acts, each named after one of the film's characters. The structure is a bit misleading; while the respective characters do come to the fore in each named act, the focus remains on Liu Yazi, who’s anointed as “special” by the film and everyone in it. After the first act, characters from Yuk Cheung to Law Chun-Ming to Kammy Au begin falling all over themselves in admiration for Yazi but that fascination is not adequately justified to the audience. Jacqueline Zhu does a decent job with Yazi’s determination, but the actress lacks the presence – and the filmmakers the ability – to make Yazi truly stand out. Special female characters are a fixture of other Yi Shu adaptations, (e.g., Yon Fan’s Last Romance and Lost Romance) but those characters were played by actresses like Maggie Cheung and Cherie Chung. That’s a select company of actresses, and it would be unfair to expect Jacqueline Zhu to measure up. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t.

A Complicated Story is the first film from the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts (HKAPA) film program, and it comes with many big names attached. Critic/filmmaker Shu Kei contributed to the script and co-produced alongside Milkyway Image producer Ding Yiu-Shan, while Johnnie To and Edko Films honcho Bill Kong are listed as executive producers. The industry association is not just for show; Kiwi Chow and other HKAPA students (nine worked on the film) were mentored in their crew roles by film professionals. Technically, the film is sound, with cinematography and production design appearing professional if not exceptional. The rest of the execution sags. The screenplay is ponderous, using voiceover or monologue to communicate scads of complicated and clumsy drama, and the musical score borders on cloying. A Complicated Story compares decently to typical Hong Kong indies, but is ultimately too pretentious and stiff to engage on either a commercial or artistic level (the filmmakers appear to be leaning towards the latter).

The big name actors lend credibility: Deannie Ip and Elaine Kam are engaging in small roles, and Jacky Cheung actually appearing in any film qualifies as a major coup. Unfortunately, the actors seem incongruous, their personalities and performances exposing the limits of the talky screenplay and overcomplicated storyline. The drama here is largely internal and requires more seductive and expressive filmmaking to fully involve the audience. If everyone in the film is supposed to be enchanted by Yazi then the audience should be enchanted by her too. Actually demonstrating Yazi’s allure would do wonders, but the screenplay dominates, ultimately weighing down the film beneath numerous verbalized epiphanies and emotions. As is, A Complicated Story comes across more like a play than a film, which may frustrate audiences. The mentorship and assistance from old pros is appreciated, but if the Hong Kong film industry is to be saved, it needs more than films that aspire to abstract notions of quality. It needs movies that people will actually want to see. (Kozo, 3/2013)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
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Image credit: Edko Films Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen