Sunday, October 03, 2004

Lost and Loving It

This one took such a long time to write, I can't even remember what sparked it off. I started this post on 10 September and now it's almost a month later, and much has happened in between. For one thing, I started to download "Last Life in the Universe", then discontinued the download when the DVD went on sale here. I bought the DVD and almost immediately lost it in the mess of my room. Damn it, I was so looking forward to watching it again. It was one of my favourite films this year, together with "Lost in Translation". Anyway, here we go: my thoughts on the two films.

Although I prefer Last Life, both films have much in common. Both are about two lonely people (who have little in common and may never have met each other in the normal course of things), who meet and, for a brief moment in time, connect. Both are set in big cities (Bangkok and Tokyo) that provide the very powerful sense of urban alienation, amplified by, at least for three of the four characters, the culture shock of being alone in a foreign land. And both films were very satisfying to watch.

At one level, the films could have been little more than that hoary cliche about two ships passing in the night. The notion of serendipity is usually badly explored by American movies starring Meg Ryan, Helen Hunt and their doe-eyed sisters. Fortunately, both films lifted the idea beyond the ordinary. It helped that there was no happy ending, nor was there a melodramatic parting of ways. The other important factor was the excellent direction and finely nuanced acting of all four leads. The shock of meeting a soulmate when you least expect it; the vertigo of falling in love, heightened as it were by the tacit knowledge that the chance meeting cannot but end - the melange of feelings were made palpable oh so subtly. You felt for these characters precisely because you were not told to.

Where Last Life was more effective was in its storyline and cinematography. Its more improbable pairing of suicidal Japanese librarian hiding from the yakuza and grief-striken Thai girl about to migrate to Japan provided more dramatic tension than Lost in Translation's ageing over-the-hill actor meets young lonely wife. In the latter, the two Americans cling together as they reel from the shared experience of being lost in Tokyo. In Last Life, Kenji and Noi are drawn together in spite of the cultural, language and personality differences, which made the fledgling romance more poignant. As for the cinematography, the landscape, a major player in both films, was so "lush and invocative" (quoting some review I read and totally agreed with), it was hard not to fall in love with the film. Kudos to the incomparable Christopher Doyle.

All in all, the two films appealed to the hopeless romantic in me. Now, if only I can locate that missing DVD...



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