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Review: Crying Out in Love

Crying Out in Love

在世界中心呼唤爱

China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 91 mins.

Director: Gwak Jae-yong 곽재용 | 郭在容.

Rating: 5/10.

Glossy Chinese remake by a Korean director of a Japanese student weepie relies heavily on a Big Twist.

STORY

Beijing, 2008. Xia Ye (Yang Zi) receives a package from the Post Office of the Future 未来邮局, based in Qingdao, which contains audio cassettes from the late 1990s and an old cassette player. She listens to them on the train to Qingdao and hears the voice of the 17-year-old Ke Da (Ou Hao). (Back in the hot summer of 1997 Ke Da had fallen for Xia Ye [Zhang Huiwen] at senior high school. Her parents were divorced; his mother [Li Qinqin] ran a seadside bar. They had formed a threesome with Xu Lang [Gao Taiyu] who, like Ke Da, was often brawling. As the friendship between Ke Da and Xia Ye grew, the two had expressed their feelings to each other via audio cassettes. In swimming class, Ke Da had met an older guy, Li Fusheng [Yao Lu], who ran from his home what he called the Post Office of the Future, accepting messages for the living or the dead to be delivered sometime in the future. Li Fusheng had believed that the dead live on at the Centre of the World, where they meet because of love. His own first love had been Yin Meiqin [Wen Xin], whom he’d met during the Cultural Revolution but who was married by the time he returned from military service. Yin Meiqin had died in 1976. Her daughter, Sun Jiaolian [Wang Zhi], was the girls’ swimming trainer at the high school, and Li Fusheng had looked upon her as his own daughter as she resembled her mother so much.) Arriving in Qingdao, Xia Yu visits the Post Office of the Future, which is now run by Sun Jiaolian. (When Xia Yu hadn’t heard from her divorced father Xia Qiangsheng [Cheng Yong] for some time, she and Ke Da had gone to Beijing to visit him at the fine arts institute he headed. But she found he’d remarried and had a young daughter.) Ke Da, who has also travelled down to Qingdao and been listening to some old audio cassettes he also received, meets his old friend Xu Lang again after a decade. Meanwhile, Sun Jiaolian tells Xia Yu that she knows about how Xia Yu was hospitalised during Aug-Oct 1998. (Ke Da had rushed Xia Yu there when she had a nose bleed, and she was diagnosed with malignant multiple myeloma.) Gradually, the mystery of why Xia Yu and Ke Da received the old audio cassettes becomes clear.

REVIEW

After the well cast but iffily scripted rom-com Meet Miss Anxiety 我的早更女友 (2014), South Korean director Gwak Jae-yong 곽재용 | 郭在容 tries his hand at a second Mainland funded, China-set feature, Crying Out in Love 在世界中心呼唤爱. A very free adaptation of the novel Crying Out Love, in the Centre of the World 世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ (aka Socrates in Love 恋するソクラテス) by Japanese author Katayama Kyoichi 片山恭一, it’s the third movie version of the popular weepie dealing with a “pure love” between two high-school students, and is the most radical re-imagining so far. Strongly recalling South Korean melodramas from the turn of the century in its play with time and the use of a Big Twist, for most of its length it’s a good-looking but conventional teenage melodrama, with the usual male brawling, winsome heroine, bike rides à deux, and romantic musings in scenic spots (here the seaside city of Qingdao in northern China).

Now 57, Gwak has had an up-and-down career, with 11 features across a quarter of a century and some large gaps as a director. He’s still best known for the mega-hit My Sassy Girl 엽기적인  그녀 (2001), plus The Classic 클래식 (2003) and maybe Windstruck 내  여자친구를  소개합니다 (2004), and Crying Out in Love does nothing to change that or suggest that China is a fruitful career move for him. On release last summer it sank without trace, grossing a mere RMB11 million compared with the RMB162 million of Meet Miss Anxiety two years earlier.

Basically a vehicle for two rising young Mainland names – 24-year-old singer-actor Ou Hao 欧豪, who was surprisingly good as the conflicted hero in The Left Ear 左耳 (2015), and 23-year-old dance graduate Zhang Huiwen 张慧雯 (Coming Home 归来, 2014; Forever Young 2015 栀子花开2015, 2015) – Crying Out in Love is consistently let down by sappy dialogue, plus production values which, though slick, bring an off-putting South Korean flavour to the Mainland setting and characters. (Like many Korean directors, Gwak imported key crew from his homeland.)

Katayama’s novel has been adapted multiple times since being published in 2001. In Japan it was reworked as a manga (2004), TV drama (2004), radio drama (2004) and musical (2005), as well as a 2004 feature film, directed by Yukisada Isao 行定勋, the form in which it’s best known internationally (see poster, left). In addition it was remade in South Korea as My Girl & I 파랑 주의보 (2005), directed by Jeon Yun-su 전윤수 | 田昀树 and starring Cha Tae-hyeon 차태현 | 车太铉 and Song Hye-gyo 송혜교 | 宋慧乔, a free adaptation (see poster, below left) that was not especially successful in South Korea despite Cha’s popularity a few years earlier in My Sassy Girl.

Unlike the novel and Japanese film, Gwak’s version centres on the girl rather than the boy, and although it throws in references to Australia’s Ayers Rock (a major wish-fulfilment part of the book) it’s weakened by a doll-like performance from Zhang that, even more than in Coming Home and Forever Young 2015, does the job but doesn’t exhibit any special star quality – which is a shame coming from a director who’s generally focused on strong female characters. Without being anything special, Ou registers more strongly than Zhang and brings a distinctive Chinese flavour to his part. But this, alas, only makes one regret that he doesn’t get more of the dramatic spotlight. Among the rest of the cast, Gao Taiyu 高泰宇 has a few strong moments as the twosome’s best pal but is then ditched by the script.

Hong Kong editor Xu Hongyu 许宏宇 [Derek Hui] brings the movie in at a very tight hour-and-a-half, not over-stretching the slim content and getting to the Big Twist soon after the hour point. Widescreen photography by Korean d.p. Gim Yeong-heung 김영흥 | 金容兴 makes the most of the Qingdao seaside setting, plus occasional flashier moments (like a lateral track that shows the two leads across four seasons) that wouldn’t have been out of place in a hallyu romance.

CREDITS

Presented by Beijing C2M Media (CN), Youth Enlight Pictures (CN), Joy Eastern Media (CN). Produced by Beijing C2M Media (CN), Futuristic Picture Media (Tianjin) (CN).

Script: Gwak Jae-yeong, Peng Xiaojiao, Zhou Zhan, Cao Jinling. Novel: Katayama Kyuichi. Photography: Gim Yeong-heung. Editing: Xu Hongyu [Derek Hui], Zhou Xiaolin. Music: Gim Jun-seong, Chen Yu. Art direction: Song Yun-hwi, Jia Xue. Costumes: Wang Zongling. Sound: Gao Yuguang, Gong Tae-weon. Action: Wang Yongcheng. Visual effects: Baek Sang-dong. Underwater photography: Zhang Wei. Executive direction: Han Gyu-tae.

Cast: Ou Hao (Ke Da), Zhang Huiwen (young Xia Ye), Yang Zi (Xia Ye), Gao Taiyu (Xu Lang), Yao Lu (Li Fusheng), Wang Zhi (Sun Jiaolian, teacher), Wen Xin (Yin Meiqin, Sun Jiaolian’s mother), Li Qinqin (Ke Da’s mother), Yang Tongshu (Xia Ye’s mother), Cheng Yong (Xia Qiangsheng, Xia Yu’s father), Deng Xin (Huang Yanyan), Jiang Kai (Liu, teacher), Yuan Yuan (female swimming trainer), Guo Jiaxi (English teacher), Li Jinming (Chinese teacher), Sun Baoguang (gatekeeper), Liu Chao (young Li Fusheng), Shi Yanjing (Yin Meiqin’s father).

Release: China, 26 Aug 2016.