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Secret

     

(left) Jay Chou at the piano, and (right) Guey Lun-Mei and Jay Chou.

Chinese: 不能說的.秘密
Year: 2007  
Director: Jay Chou
Producer: Bill Kong
Writer: Jay Chou, Christine To Chi-Long
Cast: Jay Chou, Guey Lun-Mei, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Alice Tzeng
The Skinny: Secret is wonderful to look at and listen to, and actress Guey Lun-Mei is terrific, easily outdoing the not-half-bad Jay Chou. The above is enough to compensate for the film's problems, including annoying side characters, a sagging pace, and glaring lapses of logic. Better than expected, which is a good thing.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Jay Chou's directorial debut is named Secret - which is a dead giveaway right there. Based on that title, you should know that there's some lingering piece of information in the film that turns this seemingly earnest youth romance into an overwrought sob-fest. Secret needs its secret. Without it, the film would probably be irretrievably boring, plus no secret means no hook. If there isn't an acute conflict placing this idealized romance in jeopardy, then nobody is getting their money's worth; the audience may as well be flipping through a photo book of dope Jay Chou pictures. The downside: Secret can easily be spoiled by any in depth discussion. As such, I'll try to make sense in this review without giving away too much. That's harder than it sounds.

Let's cut straight to the chase then: is Secret any good? Surprisingly, it's not bad at all, possessing fine art direction, cinematography and music, plus a moving performance from Taiwanese actress Guey Lun-Mei (the excellent Blue Gate Crossing). The film also deserves some credit for being complex and creative enough in its narrative workings that one will likely hang around to see how everything ends.

But Secret isn't convincing. The film sets up rules that it eventually doesn't follow, achieving its intended gooshy emotions but leaving the audience to question just exactly how they got there. Not everything completely adds up, and the aggravating side characters, laggy pace, and inexplicable events leaves this less of an accomplishment than it perhaps could have been. Jay Chou does possess some affable charm, but he's still too distant to be a suitable romantic lead. He fares better as a filmmaker, in that he at least attempts something more substantial than your usual singer-turned-actor-turned-director, plus he seems to have assembled a crew that buys into his melodramatic vision. The biggest deal behind Secret is that it's probably better than one expects it to be.

The straight skinny: Secret gets a thumbs up, albeit a qualified one, with Jay Chou and company getting a solid "B" for their efforts. Of course, if you're a Jay Chou fan then he'll probably get an "A+" for simply existing, in which case you should see Secret pronto because you would probably would see it anyway regardless of whether or not I recommend it. In many ways, Jay Chou is review proof. Such is the magical allure of Chairman Chou.

That's the cryptic, cursory evaluation of the film. However, before you read any further, it's time to issue that spoiler warning again. Truthfully, I won't be giving away much of the film below, but if you're the sort that demands a pure viewing experience then you should stop reading. I mean it. Look away right now.

Still with me? Okay, here's the basic outline. Jay Chou is Jay, a budding musical genius whose way with piano keys makes him a hit with the ladies, and even the guys, who recognize talent when they see it. Jay arrives at Tanjiang Art School and already he's being watched, but his eyes and heart are immediately stolen by Rain (Guey Lun-Mei), an elegant, charming flirt who first happens upon Jay in the school's aged piano room. The two begin a cute, casual romance that's defined by secrets. Basically, Rain keeps them, starting with her name, then extending them to other things like where she goes, what she does, and why she's always absent from class. Since she's so effervescent and attractive, Jay is immediately smitten.

Jay has a secret too, but I'll give it away: his dad is a teacher at the school, and he's played by Anthony Wong in an amusing performance that's vintage Wong. Jay also has some friends at school who aren't as amusing, and even qualify as annoying and bothersome. Some of these characters are played by Chou's Taiwanese pop music pals. Since this is a Jay Chou production (besides starring and directing, he penned the original story and contributed the music), it's only understandable that Chou make room for some of his buddies as well as his pet obsessions, especially music. Chou becomes the class celebrity when he kicks ass in a "piano battle", which is as entertaining as it is patently manufactured. Basically, Chou outfoxes his opponent on the ivory keys, winning the hearts of the girls and the guys, while still remaining cool and sheepish in that inimitable Jay Chou way. Chief among his admirers is the pretty Sky (Alice Tzeng), who starts to crush on Jay big time. But Jay only has eyes for Rain.

Or does he? Despite getting along swimmingly with Jay, Rain soon gets the idea that Jay is two-timing her with Sky. This is due to your standard crossed wires and mistaken circumstances, but the misinterpreted event is enough to throw a massive crush-killing wrench into their puppy love. That would probably be a terrible thing to behold if not for the fact that the relationship up until then was hardly inspiring. Jay Chou and Guey Lun-Mei have decent chemistry, but the relationship between their characters never seems that deep. There's a manufactured quality to the dialogue that makes their supposed love a bit unconvincing, and without more acute emotions the film begins to drag.

Sadly, part of this is the fault of Jay Chou, the actor. Chou possesses a certain likable charm, but his presence hardly screams "passion." His demeanor is just too remote; Chou tries hard, but he can't convey a complete range of emotions. Shoring things up, however, is Guey Lun-Mei. When she initially appears, she acts too much like an idealized good girl flirt to be real; it's like she's some manufactured idea of what perfect high school romance should be. However, as it turns out, there's a reason for her bizarre flirtatious behavior, and as the film divulges more of the hows and whys, Guey is given a chance to convey emotions that prove heartbreaking. Her screen presence is refreshing and her emotions genuinely moving; if Secret manages to affect, Guey Lun-Mei is a large reason why.

The revelation of the film's eponymous secret is what gives Guey the chance to really affect the audience - and yet it's also when the movie starts to lose its credibility. The mechanism behind the film's secret is never known, but the logic of how it works is explained explicitly, such that every incident and action in the film needs to fit a set of rules explained by the characters and depicted by the events themselves. But the film ultimately doesn't adhere to its convictions, eventually twisting events to fit desired emotions and skirting around the rules that they've laid out for us. The film gives us a gooshy denouement, but it's only touching because it fits some sort of predetermined audience expectation, and not because it surprises or really affects. Some people may be happy with how Secret ends. But does the film earn its ending? I don't think that it does.

At least Secret is a very pretty ride. On artifice alone, the film is aces, serving up beautiful art direction, cinematography and music. Jay Chou really knows how to compose a tune; the film's original music is genuinely stirring, and preexisting pieces are well-chosen and evocative of the film's innocent romantic mood. Secret serves the senses exceptionally well - so much so, that it's almost tragic when it ultimately throws logic out the window. Jay Chou and company have created a nice little valentine, but their desire to give the film more weight eventually leaves it adrift. The film barrels towards its intended goal with little regard for common sense, leaving the audience with nothing besides the pretty pictures and people to shore it up.

Amazingly, that gambit is more successful than not, and Guey Lun-Mei practically drags the film across the finish line herself. Without her the film would probably sink beneath its own self-importance, as its manufactured sheen and occasionally miscalculated choices render the film little more than a superficially gorgeous pure love diversion for teen girls and the boys they drag to the cinema along with them. That'll probably do just fine for most, since "manufactured diversion" seems to be a standard expectation for many modern moviegoers. Secret will probably score well with its intended teen audience, especially if they take in the film as a single, one-off experience. Further viewings would only reveal the film's holes to be gaping and perhaps intolerable, but upon first glance, Secret is pretty and polished enough to charm. (Kozo 2007)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
AVP/Intercontinental Video, Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image courtesy of www.mov3.com

   
   
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