China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 92 mins.
Director: Bak Yu-hwan 박유환 | 朴裕焕.
Entertaining enough black comedy doesn’t bring anything new to its genre.
Beijing, the present day, winter. Wu Daming (Lei Jiayin), a divorced lawyer with two children, accidentally falls down an open manhole and is dazed by the experience. He returns to the old building he lives alone in – Seven Stars Apartments, full of colourful characters – and in his wardrobe finds the body of Gao Yan (Li Ya’nan), a fellow tenant he’d once threatened to kill for badmouthing his girlfriend Yang Yi (Xia Zitong), the daughter of the building’s owner, Yang Zhong (Wu Hong). Yang Zhong wants her to marry a gangster, Qian, so he can get some cash to save the building. Still feeling dazed, Wu Daming visits a doctor (He Yunwei) who reminds him that the previous night he and Gao Yan got into a fight over Yang Yi. Back in his flat, Wu Daming checks his wardrobe and, instead of Gao Yan’s body, finds a friend, petty thief Wang Song (Li Jing), hiding there. It turns out that Wang Song entered Wu Daming’s flat while he was out, found the body of Gao Yan and put it inside a suitcase; when other friends of Wu Daming came round to play majiang, Wang Song hid in the wardrobe. Wu Daming has been wondering whether a gang boss, Ji (Li Yu), killed Gao Yan over money, or even Wang Song because of an insult. Then he and Wang Song discover that Yang Zhong threatened to kill Gao Yan because of some nude pictures Gao Yan took of Yang Yi. After discovering Gao Yan’s body in his room, all three decide to bury it in the suitcase outside the city. As they leave by car, they’re joined by a fourth person, Auntie (Sun Ning), who’s on the run from Fats (Zhao Zhizhe) and his men. However, after burying the body in the countryside, they’re then forced to move it, as the site is about to be developed for a new block of flats.
A one-thing-leads-to-another black comedy, in which the hero’s bad day starts with him falling down a manhole and continues with him finding a corpse in his wardrobe, Memento 记忆碎片 is an entertaining enough 90 minutes without being – like the same film-maker’s second feature, psycho-horror The Mysterious Family (2017) – anything special within the genre. Made with a less starrier cast, Memento managed only a lame RMB4 million on release in China, a quarter of Family‘s gross.
Set and shot (back in late 2012) in Beijing, it was the first feature by South Korean writer-director Bak Yu-hwan 박유환 | 朴裕焕, 47, and like Family was funded by Mainland sources. Though mainly using a China crew, Bak typically imported a Korean d.p. – Gim Seong-hwan 김성환 | 金成奂, whose bright grey light exactly captures that of wintertime Beijing but doesn’t bring much atmosphere, especially to the apartment building – plus Hong Kong editor Chen Zhiwei 陈志伟 [Andy Chan], who’s worked on many Mainland productions (So Young 致我们终将逝去的青春, 2013; Love on the Cloud 微爱之渐入佳境, 2014; Detective Chinatown 唐人街探案, 2015) and here turns in a typically tight package. The film’s problem is more Bak’s script, which throws together a dead body, a concussed main character and a group of marginal characters in an old apartment block but just has a familiar feel to it rather than bringing anything fresh or new to a well-worn genre. The Chinese title means “Fragments of Memory” but Bak’s screenplay doesn’t really explore that theme.
A higher-profile cast may have given the movie a boost, but the existing players do as much justice to the script as possible. As the divorced lawyer who just keeps having a bad day, TV actor Lei Jiayin 雷佳音 brings a suitably bemused look to the part, with others supplying more colour: stand-up comedian He Yunwei 何云伟 is especially good as a weasily hawker-cum-thief, Li Yu 李彧 as a gang boss, and TV actress Sun Ning 孙宁 as a blousy “auntie” on the run.
The chamber-like scoring, supervised by well-known Mainland music producer Qin Tian 秦天, is fine throughout. The film’s production title was 七星公寓 (“Seven Star Apartments”), the name of the old block of flats. On posters the English title is Memento Mori – distractingly recalling the 1999 lesbian high-school K-horror – though on the film itself it is just Memento. Hong Kong director/producer Guan Jinpeng 关锦鹏 [Stanley Kwan] is credited as “artistic supervisor”, though what he contributed is anyone’s guess.
Presented by Seven Stars Film (Beijing) (CN), Future Film Media (CN), Beijing Zonto International Auction (CN), Assets Management Company of Beijing Normal University (CN), Beijing Wing of National Film Culture Media (CN), Red Place Vision Film & TV Media (CN). Produced by Dadi Media (Beijing) (CN), Shanghai Asia Television Art Centre (CN).
Script: Bak Yu-hwan, Yu Fan. Photography: Gim Seong-hwan. Editing: Chen Zhiwei [Andy Chan]. Music direction: Qin Tian. Art direction: Wu Ming, Wang Jinguo. Styling: Wang Yimiao. Sound: Wang Tong, Hu Wei, Li Tao. Action: Liu Fang. Special effects: Su Shengjiang. Visual effects: Choi Jeong-min. Executive direction: Li Xin’gang. Artistic supervision: Guan Jinpeng [Stanley Kwan].
Cast: Lei Jiayin (Wu Daming), Xia Zitong (Yang Yi, Wu Daming’s girlfriend), Li Jing (Wang Song), Sun Ning (Da Sao/Auntie), Li Yu (Ji, gang boss), He Yunwei (Wei Min, doctor), Li Ya’nan (Gao Yan), Wu Hong (Yang Zhong, Yang Yi’s father), Fang Daxiong (Luo Guo), Zhao Zhizhe (Pangzi/Fats), Zhao Ye (Zhang, boss), Xia Minghao (man in glasses), Wang Yutang (Wu Daming’s boss), Liu Xin (cleaning lady), Wang Hongqian (muscle man).
Release: China, 3 Jun 2016.