Even though Yibai Zhang (Spring Subway, Lost Indulgence) is somewhat of a critics favorite, his films clearly fail to find their way outside the confines of the Chinese borders. Some lukewarm film fest successes and fringe critical acclaim are not enough for a talent like Zhang, especially when you consider he is perfectly capable of making commercially-minded gems. Eternal Moment [Jiang Ai] is Zhang's latest and even though it's a film firmly grounded in Chinese television history, it should be able to amuse an international audience.
Eternal Moment sees Zhang return to one of his early TV successes, Cherish Our Love Forever (a popular Chinese soap opera). He reunites his former cast and turns the popular TV series into a flashy, deceptively simple sequel that will speak to both arthouse and commercial audiences. The film offers three alternative visions of Wen Hui and Yang Zheng's future, though it must be said none are as romantic as the title/genre might suggest. While still firmly grounded in the roots of commercial cinema, Eternal Moment offers a more mature look on love and relationships, staying clear from fluff and sentimentality.
This structure of the film is probably the only thing that might confuse Western audiences. Eternal Moment basically consists of three different shorts, featuring the same two main characters but clearly following different realities. If you go into the film without prior knowledge of this setup you might be confused when the first short suddenly ends and you might end up looking for clues in the second and third short film to link everything together. The fact that the main characters are always played by the same actors doesn't make it any easier. But once you get the gist of what is happening it's all pretty straight-forward.
The first short is definitely the most flashy and energetic of the three. Lots of stylized CG animations, fast cutting, visual trickery and hysterical use of color. If you don't feel comfortable around this type of hyper-modern cinema, know that the first short is the shortest of the three and that the other two are more classical in their presentation. The first is easily my favorite short though, a lovely example of how misguided pride can create a schism between two lifetime partners, presented in a very modern and visually pleasing way. This first short is also the most feel-good of the three, mostly due to its uplifting ending.
The second short sees Wen and Yang reunited on a school happening. Wen is divorced, Yang is in de middle of his own divorce. The two, under slight pressure of their former classmates, try to get together again but somehow, something always comes in between them. While this short features a more comical undertone, the bottom line is still quite sad and not exactly what you might expect. The presentation of this second short may not be as flashy as the first, but it's still very stylish and visually enchanting.
The third and final short finds our couple in France. Wen is married to a big shot (the pleasantly deranged Chapman To), Yang is an old-time friend visiting. What Yang doesn't know is that Wen also invited the mistress of her husband in order to find out more about their affair. Things heat up between the two women and Yang sees his chance to steal Wen away. Again a very stylish short that shines some interesting light on the complexities of love. Not just some mushy romance between two old lovers, but actually a more mature tale of romance.
All in all the three shorts each have something valuable to contribute to the romantic premise of the film. Stylishly visualized, strongly acted and pleasantly diverse, Eternal Moment is another great film in Yibai Zhang's oeuvre. So far Zhang hasn't made a single miss and I hope he can keep up his winning streak. Yibai Zhang is definitely one of the best hidden gems of Chinese cinema, if you can stomach romances you should definitely give his film the benefit of the doubt.