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Murmur of the Hearts

Isabella Leong in Murmur of the Hearts.
Chinese: 念念
Year: 2015
Director: Sylvia Chang


Patricia Cheng
Writer: Yukihiko Kageyama, Sylvia Chang

Isabella Leong, Joseph Chang, Ko Yue-Lun, Angelica Lee Sum-Kit, Julian Chen, Wang Shih-Hsien

The Skinny:

Thoughtful, moving drama from Sylvia Chang about three lives seeking closure. The narrative can be a bit difficult to follow at times, but the acting and sentiments compensate. Isabella Leong’s first starring role since returning from her retirement.

by Kozo:

Sylvia Chang returns to the director’s chair after seven years with Murmur of the Hearts, an artful and introspective look at intertwined lives seeking closure. Returning from an equally long sabbatical, Isabella Leong stars in her first adult leading role as Mei, a neurotic artist living in Taipei who embarks on a bold new painting style as her rocky relationship with boxer boyfriend, Hsiang (Joseph Chang), grows rockier. While Mei struggles with her issues, Hsiang must come to terms with his lack of success in the ring – not to mention the fact that his eyesight is failing. Meanwhile, Mei’s brother Nan (Lawrence Ko) remains at their original home on Green Island, where he attends church and works as a tour guide. While content with his life, Nan is nevertheless haunted by the fact that he hasn’t seen his mother Jen (Angelica Lee) nor Mei since childhood.

Murmur of the Hearts possesses a rather prosaic story, with few new ideas among its grab bag of storylines, conflicts and themes. Broken families, uprooted lives, maturation, reconciliation, realization and reunion – the film covers all these bases using its three lead characters, who each seek a form of inner peace. For Mei, this involves forgiving her departed mother, who took Mei at an early age from Nan and their abusive father (Julian Chen). Hsiang has issues with his dead father and has to reconcile himself with a life that’s rapidly and unexpectedly changing due to Mei and his illness. Despite seeming to be the most well-adjusted of the bunch, Nan is stifled emotionally, his separation from Mei leaving a hole in his heart. Flashbacks also provide coverage of Jen caring for the young Mei and Nan, though focus on her is expository and lacks the introspection given to the younger generation.

The nonlinear storytelling is occasionally difficult to follow; shifts in time are not always consistent, and the audience is required to pay extra attention to piece the narrative together. Though the film deals with complex emotions and relationships similar to other Sylvia Chang films, the artful storytelling and lack of melodrama mark this as a more mature and contemplative work. The film demands audience participation, not only to follow the story, but also to find meaning in the swaths of voiceover and the detours into magical realism. All three main characters have encounters that obviously do not take place in reality, and are intended to illustrate emotions or realizations. The mix is a bit odd – despite the fantastic story devices, Murmur of the Hearts is more serious than playful. Occasionally, the magical moments will lead to a strong catharsis while other times they clash tonally with the serious script.

The film relies heavily on its actors, who are excellent. Isabella Leong’s time off hasn’t dulled her preternatural screen presence, and Joseph Chang is among Asia’s best at playing masculine characters with deeper, darker facets. Their characters are self-absorbed, and border on unlikable, but show convincing and identifiable growth, while Lawrence Ko is surprisingly compelling and sympathetic in what should be the less dynamic role. Despite limited screentime, Angelica Lee brings grace and strength to the pivotal role of Jen. The lack of large revelations may turn off audiences more accustomed to melodrama, but the film finds appropriate emotional crescendos that feel earned – especially the final one, which is touching and warmly delivered. While not representing a high-water mark for any of the principals involved, Murmur of the Hearts nevertheless is thoughtful and moving, with compelling emotions, complex characters and strong performances that make it worth recommending. (Kozo, 3/2016)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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