“The Knot” is of some significance in being the first joint blockbuster production between Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the first to use a Chinese company for its expansive digital effects work. Boasting a big cast of stars and an ambitious story which takes place in a variety of countries and periods of history, the film certainly bore the marks of a ready made pan-Asian hit. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be the case, and although it performed well in Mainland China, the film floundered badly in other territories, and was not particularly well received by critics.
The story begins in the present day with a young woman (played by Hong Kong starlet Isabella Leong) travelling around various Asian countries pestering her old painter aunt in New York on the phone for details regarding her apparently mysterious uncle. This awkward prompting leads into the main story, related in flashback and beginning in Taipei in the 1940s. It is the story of Qiushui (actor Chen Kun, also in “The Little Chinese Seamstress”), a young English tutor who falls in love with Wang Biyun (Taiwanese popstrel Vivian Hsu), the daughter of a rich dentist whose son he is teaching. Sadly, the amorous couple is parted when Qiushui is forced to flee to the Mainland after the government starts hunting down suspected left wing activists, where he becomes a military doctor.
Moving around the country at an alarming pace, Qiushui finds solace in the company of perky nurse Wang Jindi (Li Bingbing, also in “Wait ‘Til you’re Older”), who slowly wears him down with her astounding decency and honesty. Meanwhile, poor Wang Biyun remains in Taipei, caring for her love’s aging mother and hoping against hope that fate will reunite them, while she herself is pursued by the astoundingly decent and honest Zilu (Hong Kong boy band member Steven Cheung).
It’s clear from the start of “The Knot” that the viewer is in for a heavy dose of melodrama and clunky old fashioned romantic values rather than anything gritty or challenging. Indeed, “The Knot” is populated entirely by characters that are quite happy to spend their lives pining away for other characters, whilst they in turn are pined after by a lesser sub-division of even more wretched and lovelorn souls. Since the film is without villains, and since none of the characters are willing to stoop to lies or deceit to try and further their romantic aims, the plot is oddly lacking in real drama despite its themes of loss and tragedy.
Still, the narrative is engaging enough and there is plenty in the way of soap opera style action, which mainly takes the form of endless scenes of heartfelt goodbyes and shots of tear-soaked faces staring glumly into the rain. As such, for viewers looking for an unashamedly sentimental sob story, the film certainly delivers. For viewers of other persuasions, the over the top hysterics to which the cast is prone frequently makes for unintentional amusement, and the film verges into the territory of being enjoyable trash. A great deal of the responsibility for this falls squarely on the shoulders of the two leads, with Chen Kun spending most of the film looking like an enthusiastic though not particularly intelligent puppy, and with Vivian Hsu pouting her way through a role which leads her from amusingly old looking schoolgirl to pained spinster.
Where the film succeeds most is in its impressive visuals, with the high budget clearly having been put to good use in building intricate sets and on a surprisingly judicious and effective use of CGI. Thanks to this, “The Knot” certainly looks gorgeous with some great sweeping camera work, and is lent a suitably epic air through its globetrotting plot, which spans the globe as well as the decades. As a result, there is a definite blockbuster feel to the proceedings, with a professional sheen comparable to similar Hollywood efforts.
Unfortunately, director Yin undermines all of this good work by insistently and inexplicably fading to black every minute or so, seemingly without any thought for continuity or cohesion. This annoying technical gaffe, which frequently interrupts conversations or dramatic scenes gives the impression that the camera is blinking or twitching, and at times makes the film feel like a television production with its advertising breaks cut out.
The film’s other major flaw unquestionably comes in the form of the utterly needless modern day framing device, which serves only to slow things down and to distract from the central plot. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Isabella Leong is absolutely terrible in her mercifully brief role, turning in a non-performance which grates like nails on a blackboard. Of course, thanks to the miracles of DVD technology, viewers have the power to simply skip through these scenes, something which is definitely recommended, and which has the added benefit of also cutting down the rather long running time to a more manageable length.
Thankfully, neither of these is enough to sink the film, and “The Knot” remains entertaining in a big budget schlock-buster fashion. Although unlikely to win any awards for depth or originality, it certainly achieves in its aim of mass appeal melodrama, and should please fans of the form with its luscious production values and epic scope.
Li Yin (director) / Heng Liu (screenplay), Kehui Zheng (original story)
CAST: Kun Chen … Chen Qiushui
Han Chin … Doctor Wang
Ah Lei Gua … Wang Bi-yun – old age
Vivian Hsu … Wang Biyun
Isabella Leong … Xiao-rui
Bingbing Li … Wang Jindi
Kuei-Mei Yang … Xu Feng-liang