My Prince Edward (Hong Kong, 2019) [OAFF 2020]
My Prince Edward is largely set in Golden Plaza, a Hong Kong shopping mall best known for bridal shops and cheap wedding supplies. In this place, a feckless woman who has spent her life reacting or being passive to the whims of others is forced to take responsibility for herself when her boyfriend and mother-in-law try to maneuver her into a wedding.
Cheung Lei-fong (Stephy Tang) works as a clerk at one of the bridal shops run by her best friend’s mother, while her boyfriend Edward (Chu Pak-hon) is the owner of a wedding photography shop. Their relationship has lasted seven years but seems to be one of convenience for Lei-fong, allowing her to live independently of her controlling family in an apartment in the Prince Edward area, albeit somewhat indifferently. This indifference has turned into a trap as Edward is possessive and his mother is interfering. Lei-fong’s situation is about to get more restrictive when Edward pops the question in front of everyone. His proposal poses two problems for her which the rest of the film examines.
First, in order to end the sham marriage that she was paid to take part in ten years ago with someone from mainland China in a scam to get him a Hong Kong ID, Lei-fong must track down her fake husband. Second, after years drifting, she finally begins to question what she actually wants from life. She knows that being controlled by others, including a real husband, is not it.
Director Norris Wong explores how this young woman learns to become self-determined through her two marriages, one to a possessive Hong Konger and the other to a laid-back mainlander eager to escape the restrictive nature of life in authoritarian China. The toxic relationships that Lei-fong has allowed herself to become trapped in are analogous with the authoritarian control that the mainlander, Yang Shu-wei (Jin Kaijie), wants to escape by moving countries, and so it is natural it is he who inspires her desire for freedom as she finds someone whose yearning for freedom matches hers.
The most persuasive aspect of the film is the controlling nature of her partner and mother-in-law. Edward is a manchild who searches through Lei-fong’s possessions and bombards her with messages in a way that tips over into being abusive. He keeps a tight grip on her, both emotionally and physically. Their apartment is claustrophobic as they are jammed together in a tight area with too much junk, the location and set design evoke the emotional straitjacket the girl feels. So, when Yang Shu-wei shows up he is like a breath of fresh air. Suave and handsome, the more time we spend with him, the more we understand he is philosophical and caring. In fact, he is probably a better match for Lei-fong but this is not a romance, this is the motivator for the woman to finally seize her own future.
In terms of performances, Tang comes across as somnambulant for most of the film which is fitting for a woman drifting through life, although it can be frustrating for the audience. Her performance could be misinterpreted as lacking in emotion but that is the nature of the character. The emotional fireworks with co-star Chu reveal a lot about the character and her frustrations. Chu is convincingly clingy and his genuinely unnerving in his depiction of possessive behavior. Indeed, when these ill-matching marriage partners tear at each other, both manage to draw sympathy from the audience (although Edward remains the antagonist). While the ending is left open, there is a sense that Lei-fong will be able to choose her own fate after being buffeted around by the will of others for so long. In that way, My Prince Edward uses the backdrop of Hong Kong to tell an interesting story of someone finally tapping into their self-determination.
My Prince Edward is showing at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 8 and 12.