A West Lake Moment (2004) Movie Review

“AWest Lake Moment” is the latest film from Hong Kong director Yim Ho, best known for complex emotional dramas such as “The Kitchen” and “Homecoming”. Here, the director turns his hand to contemporary romance, with an attempt to explore modern relationships in a manner that is whimsical, yet shot through with a bitter sense of realism.

Unfortunately, the only bitterness is likely to be on the part of the viewer, as “A West Lake Moment” is a monumental failure, a grating and annoying false dose of saccharine without any genuine feeling or worthwhile comments on the nature of intimacy. Sunk by a terrible script, sickening self-indulgence, and unbelievable characters that exist solely for the purpose of spouting mock-poetic bile, “A West Lake Moment” truly is a film without any redeeming qualities, and one which counts as a romantic comedy only in that it represents a previously talented director blindly in love with his own work. Sadly, the results are laughable.

The film follows the burgeoning romance between Qin (Chen Kun, who previously showed great promise in “The Little Chinese Seamstress”) and Yu (Zhou Xun, who was also in “Seamstress”, as well as “Suzhou River”). The two meet by chance when poor, lonely Qin decides to spend his birthday in Yu’s coffee shop, and somehow manages to draw Yu’s interest despite some truly maudlin singing. Although the flame of romance is immediately and conveniently lit, there are several obstacles in the path of true love, most importantly the fact that Yu is engaged to a Western man, and Qin himself already has a girlfriend. Despite the fact that neither character seems particularly motivated or desperate for romance to bloom between them, a relationship slowly builds, leading inexorably towards what are obviously signposted as difficult choices about life, love, and so on and so forth.

As should be obvious by now, the plot of “A West Lake Moment” basically consists of clich’ following clich’, strung together with a series of unlikely coincidences which are justified through several cringe worthy references to fate and destiny. Ho, who also co-scripted, seems to be under the illusion that the film is some kind of fairy tale, which magically allows him to subdue the viewer with cheap emotion, and even less subtly, with a rancid landslide of forced cuteness, a ploy which becomes apparent immediately from the opening scene.

This basically translates into a senseless narrative, in which all the character relationships feel forced, and which, worst of all, relies on distastefully low tugs at the heartstrings, such as the entirely pointless death of a minor, supposedly sympathetic character, to give the main protagonists a chance to emote. This type of desperate and unsuccessful manipulation pervades the entire film, and at times threatens to throw proceedings into the realm of the surreal, not least through the fact that Ho decides to curse half the cast with a comically unrealistic stutter. Unfortunately, even this falls flat, for the simple fact that both Qin and Yu are preposterous, thinly written stereotypical caricatures of what Ho clearly believes to be representative of ‘youth culture’.

Things are not helped by the poor acting of Kun and Xun, though to be fair neither have much to work with, especially Kun, who is reduced to playing a character whose defining moment comes early on in the film when he is seen crying over his own vomit-inspiring writing (laughably narrated to the dumbstruck viewer), then recovering with an energetic session of air drumming. Xun fares little better, playing a character saddled with a wacky invisible friend with whom she is forced to have a series of conversations which are quite obviously designed to reveal her inner thoughts and to push along the film’s slow narrative.

Ho’s direction only serves to make matters worse, as he manages to give “A West Lake Moment” the look and feel of a coffee advertisement, packed with shots of characters staring longingly at each other over steaming cups as they chatter away about absolutely nothing. On top of this, he chooses to commit cinematic suicide by inserting a number of incredibly self-conscious tricks, such as having cartoon letters appear on the screen, and occasionally employing ill-judged fast editing effects. These are alternated with long, languorous shots of the titular lake, unfortunately accompanied by pseudo-lyrical drivel about clouds. There is no sense of consistency in the style or feel, which only serves further to highlight the fact that Ho has done little more than clumsily, and rather inexplicably, pulled together the worst elements of the romantic comedy genre into an unpalatable mishmash.

Is there anything good to say about “A West Lake Moment”? Sadly, aside from one snide joke about Zhang Ziyi’s lack of popularity in her native land, the answer is a resounding No. The film is quite simply horrible, being shoddily made, and depressingly reliant on cheap emotions in a way that is sure to alienate even the most heartsick of genre fans, and which is sure to leave the average viewer searching desperately for something to wash away the bad taste.

Zi Yang, Ho Yim (director) / Ho Yim, Xiao Zheng (screenplay)
CAST: Kun Chen …. Qin
Ling Yan
Xiang Yan
Yue Zhang
Xun Zhou …. Xiao Yu

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