Hong Kong film maker Barbara Wong, known for romantic comedies that tackle modern issues, such as the recent “The Perfect Marriage” and “The Break Up Club”, returns with something a little more bitter than sweet in “The Allure of Tears”. As its title suggests, the film is a tearjerker of the highest order, featuring 3 vaguely connected stories of love and loss, with the emphasis firmly on the latter. Seeing Wong working again with regular writer-producer Lawrence Cheng, the film features a fine cast made up of newcomers and industry veterans, including Richie Jen (“Punished”), Gigi Leung (“Marrying Mr Perfect”), Aarif Lee (“Bruce Lee, My Brother”) and popular television starlet Joe Chen (“You’re My Destiny”), plus Shawn Dou and Zhou Dongyu, stars of Zhang Yimou’s “Under the Hawthorn Tree”.
The first of the film’s segments focuses on Zhou Dongyu as Xili Mei, a young woman suffering from leukaemia, who meets You Le (Aarif Lee), a spoiled boy from a rich family, when he comes to the hospital to be treated for a brain tumour. Though the two initially clash, they soon become close, and romance follows, hampered by their life threatening conditions. From here, the film tells the story of a music academy professor, whose wife is in the hospital bed next to Xili Mei. With the academy in danger of going bankrupt, he organises a concert of former pupils to try and raise money, reuniting cellist Ding Dake (Richie Jen) and Yang Lin (Gigi Leung), a famous violinist who was forced to retire after a fall left her half deaf. The final part charts the relationship between Chen Sheng (Shawn Dou) and Zhang Cai (Joe Chen), a young couple living on the poverty line who break up, planning to return to each other when their fortunes have improved. Needless to say, things don’t work out as hoped.
Anyone approaching “The Allure of Tears” needs to ask themselves one simple question – do you want to feel depressed? Though this may sound a little facetious, it’s fair to say that the film is unlikely to be accused of false advertising, as it really does live up to its title, delivering 3 stories of sadness and lovelorn suffering. This is evidently clear right from the start, with the first terminal illness themed segment really notching up the heartbreak, mixing pure love, tragedy and sacrifice seemingly in an effort to make clear to the viewer that they are in for 2 hours of less than cheerful times. Thankfully, the second story is a little lighter, and though it still deals with similar themes, it has an inspirational air, and at least doesn’t offer too much in the way of grief and anguish. This relative light heartedness doesn’t last long however, the final piece getting right back to tormenting its characters with hardship and death.
Thankfully, Barbara Wong is a talented writer and director, and the film sees her again working well with Lawrence Cheng to produce something that while being undeniably melodramatic, has the all important ring of truth to it. Though it occasionally does go a little too far in heaping on the misery, in particular during the third story, the film is rarely hysterical and works hard for its tears through a decent and grounded script. While the three parts are all short, each manages to pack in probably about as much character development and substance as has been seen in most feature length genre films from China of late – not that this is saying much, admittedly, though there’s enough depth here to at least make the viewer not feel too manipulated. The film also benefits from some solid direction and visuals, successfully combining slick production values with some grittier handheld camerawork, and though the soundtrack could have been a bit more muted, there’s nothing too grating or over the top.
The cast are all on solid form, and this also goes some way to making the film more palatable than other melodramas, the younger cast members managing to hold their own against the more experienced genre old hands. Shawn Dou and Zhou Dongyu arguably deliver the best performances, mainly due to their appealing freshness and pained innocence, though the film is essentially an ensemble piece and Wong gives everyone the same focus and amount of screen time.
“The Allure of Tears” definitely succeeds in its aims, and stands as one of the best and most moving tragedies from China of the last couple of years. Of course, this also means that the film isn’t a great deal of fun, and though well made and written, it’s all the more depressing as a result.
Chun-Chun Wong (director) / Lawrence Cheng, Chun-Chun Wong, Silver Hau, Skipper Cheng (screenplay)
CAST: Dongyu Zhou … Gei Li Mei
Aarif Rahman … You Le
Gigi Leung … Yang Lin
Richie Ren … Ding Dake
Qiao En Chen … Xiao Cai
Shawn Dou … Chen Sheng