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When it comes to romantic comedies and the like, there’s no doubting the dedication and determination of Hong Kong writer/director Patrick Kong, who regularly churns out one or two genre films per year, generally to an appreciative local audience. With “A Secret Between Us”, Kong does take a slightly different route compared to his tried and tested formula, as seen recently in “Love is the Only Answer”, “Natural Born Lovers” and other outings, aiming for tears and tragedy rather than his trademark cynical laughs.
The film stars TVB actress Angel Chiang (also in Kong’s recent “The Best Plan is No Plan”) and newcomer Edward Ma, who play former childhood friends and sweethearts Bobo and Ken. Despite her being married and his being engaged, they still feel a connection after meeting up by chance years later, and reminisce over their teenage first love relationship and the traumas they suffered after Bobo’s mother (Elena Kong, “Golden Chickenesss”) was diagnosed with kidney disease. With both of them coming from poor backgrounds, it seems Bobo took the advice of her neighbour Wendy (Sharon Chan, “A Dream Team”) and began working as a prostitute in order to pay for her treatment. Although Ken initially supports her, even walking her to and from her work like a loyal boyfriend, it gradually becomes too much for him, and the couple start to argue.
The first love theme continues to be extremely popular in Asian cinema, most films basically sticking to the same time-honoured mix of coming of age drama and innocent romance. To his credit, Patrick Kong does try something at least a little new here, working in plenty of cynicism and angst, with the focus firmly on the bitter rather than the sweet. “A Secret Between Us” certainly goes all out for tragedy, venturing into some dark and depressing territory as it recounts the trials of its young couple, and the flashback heavy film differs from others with similar themes in that it revolves around its characters pondering over events and memories that are frankly pretty unpleasant.
Though it never really attains the level of gritty realism being aimed for, the film does manage to combine a level of insight with its thwarted romance theme, and it arguably has more substance than most of Kong’s other recent efforts. It’s moving and affecting enough in its own manipulative way, mainly due to solid performances from leads Angel Chiang and Edward Ma, and viewers looking for heartstring tugging and tales of woe should find the film generally satisfying and worthy of the odd tear or two.
On the other hand “A Secret Between Us” is also fun watching thanks to the sheer bizarreness and wilfulness of Kong’s quest for emotional porn. It’s certainly true that the film makes little sense on closer inspection, with Bobo’s decision to become a prostitute coming at the expense of considering other options, and with Ken’s cheerful support for her choice lacking any kind of conviction or intelligence. Though dark, it’s oddly cheerful and breezy at the same time, making for an strange tone that at times borders on the distasteful, and it’s quite possible that Kong had planned the film as a piece of social commentary as much as a romantic tragedy, wrapped up with his usual slick production valves and teasing splashes of sex and semi-nudity.
Whatever the case, “A Secret Between Us” should be enjoyed by Patrick Kong aficionados or anyone looking for a somewhat glum take on the usual first love romantic drama themes. There’s something to be said for Kong being one of the few Hong Kong directors making commercially friendly local films, and though he still has a ways to go before being considered a helmer of substance, it’s another decent and entertaining entry on his CV.
Patrick Kong (director)
CAST: Angel Chiang … Bobo
Edward Ma … Ken