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Tian Zhuang Zhuang (Actor) | Sylvia Chang (Actor, Writer, Director) | Lang Yue Ting (Actor) | Rene Liu (Actor)
This professional review refers to Love Education (2017) (DVD) (English Subtitled) (Taiwan Version)
At first glance, Sylvia Chang has made movies similar to Love Education. Her latest film is a comedy-drama focusing on three generations of women, while her earlier 20:30:40 (2004) covered the experiences of three women at different life stages. Also, many of her films deal with relationships, family, womanhood or a combination of the three – which is a workable, if very succinct description of Love Education. But generalizing the film this way is dismissive. Chang may be devoted to particular themes, but her strength as a filmmaker lies in her ability to create fully realized characters through a balance of personality, situation and nuance. Sylvia Chang movies feature more than characters – these are fleshed-out people, and it takes rare talent to sketch them onscreen in such a precise, compelling fashion.
The central conflict in Love Education has cultural implications, but the script portrays it in more universal terms. When her mother dies, middle-aged Qiu Huiying (Sylvia Chang) claims to have heard her mother’s last wish: To be buried alongside her husband. However, Huiying's father is buried in his hometown under the watch of Nana (Wu Yanshu), his first wife, and she has no intention of seeing his remains relocated. When Huiying arrives in town, Nana plants herself on his grave as an obstruction, sending the whole situation into an uproar. So begins the battle between the women, as they seek legal paperwork and personal support, with some self-reflection coming for both. Decisions are made about Huiying's father, but that outcome becomes secondary to the personal journeys that the women take.
The third lead is Weiwei (Lang Yueting), Huiying's daughter who's looking to move out of the family flat and in with her rocker boyfriend Da (Song Ning). Weiwei has her own journey, and it fittingly is one that Huiying and perhaps even Nana have already completed. Women having shared experiences is not an uncommon idea, but Chang doesn’t explain her film so simply. Love Education could have been a sitcom or a tearjerker, but it downplays labored plot devices or epiphanies in favor of more natural moments that play out in lightly dramatic or comedic fashion. Chang's subtle storytelling is deceptive; while the film might seem to meander, each moment or detail eventually reveals itself to be representative of a character or their journey. The script features callbacks and parallels that feel surprising and earned, rather than gimmicky. As Chang gently weaves her narrative threads together, the humor and pathos flow from the script sublimely.
Chang acquits herself marvelously in the lead, showing that Huiying's flaws and strengths may indeed come from the same place, while Lang Yueting and Wu Yanshu impress in their younger and older roles, respectively. Supporting performances are strong (especially from film director Tian Zhuangzhuang as Huiying's husband), and star cameos add extra fun for plugged-in Chinese cinema audiences. The production plays a key role. The characters occupy lived-in, deglamorized spaces, while Mark Lee's cinematography imbues the settings and emotions with a warm, realistic glow. Despite occasional showy story devices (e.g., the film's climax takes place on a tabloid TV show where the women confront each other), Love Education resolves itself quietly, with earned changes and some acknowledgement of unresolved issues. There's a realistic weight to the film, which Chang's lighter touch better conveys than scripted messages ever could. Besides lessons on love and family, Love Education can teach us a little something about good filmmaking.
by Kozo - LoveHKFilm.com
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