She Remembers, He Forgets (Hong Kong, 2015)
Gigi (Miriam Yeung) is a travel agent yearning to undertake more travel herself but is instead stuck in Hong Kong thanks to her workaholic architect husband Shing-Wah (Jan Lamb) – who may be cheating on her. A class reunion causes Gigi to cast her mind back 20 years, to when she used to spend time with a young Shing-Wah and his best friend Bok-Man (Ng Siu-Hin). She begins to wonder if she romantically pursued the wrong friend.
She Remembers, He Forgets is a nostalgic Hong Kong melodrama from writer-director Adam Wong. While the film is well cast and occasionally sparkles with imagination, it is ultimately a somewhat pedestrian effort. Romantic dramas of this kind seem to be in plentiful supply in Hong Kong cinema, and while there is nothing in the film that prevents it from being broadly entertaining there is also nothing specifically so strong or effective as to make it worth specifically tracking down. It is ultimately the most frustrating kind of film – the ordinary one.
Miriam Yeung has this kind of warmhearted romantic anguish honed down into a fine art. She is almost always engaging in these kinds of roles, and She Remembers, He Forgets proves no exception. She moves from fondly remembering Bok-Man to actively tracking him down in such an appealing fashion that it’s impossible not to become a little engaged in her quest. Once she does start reminiscing, the film shifts into a series of flashbacks featuring the teenage Gigi with Shing-Wah and Bok-Man in their senior year of high school. In these scenes Gigi is played by Cecilia So with a winning presence and a huge amount of energy. The film is arguably at its strongest during these flashback sequences – so much so that from time to time the present-day framing narrative feels surplus to requirements.
The flashbacks feel much more straight-forward and streamlined than the present. It becomes a simple but appealing love triangle narrative, expanded out via a cast of gently distinctive classmates and friends. While highly conventional, it gets a long distance through simple charm and an earnest quality. If there is an area where the film struggles it is in its weirdly fond nostalgia for the handover of Hong Kong from British sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong is portrayed as actively anticipating the transition (the flashbacks are set in 1995); it’s a sentiment that simply does not match the real-life tensions at the time.
The present-day sequences feel a little muddy by comparison, particularly in its treatment of Shing-Wah. The film simultaneously positions him as an adulterous and exploitative spouse and as a sympathetic co-protagonist. Unfortunately, the success of the former stymies any chance for the latter. The result is a film visibly straining to make an unpalatable character a likeable one, and that is to its general detriment. To his credit, Lamb does an admirable job of making his character as conflicted and regretful as he can, but it is a losing battle.
Visually the film is dynamically shot, with more than a few striking moments that stand out from the broadly conventional presentation. One key sequence towards the film’s end really pops off the screen thanks to an unexpected piece of hand-drawn animation. Despite being the only scene of its type in the whole film, it fits perfectly – and suggests that perhaps there was a more original and creative work to be made with the material.
Mourning a film that was not made is ultimately irrelevant. What is on the screen is a serviceable and entertaining romantic drama that will appeal to its target audience, and which is just strong enough to engage a viewers slightly beyond it. There is an excellent cast to enjoy, and a writer-director demonstrating great promise. It will be interesting to see if he can find a new project that allows him to expand his ideas more than he was able to here.