As if materializing out of thin air, one day I just bumped into Tsang and Wan's first-time, self-directed semi-anthology film Lover's Discourse [Leun Yan Sui Yu]. Motivated only by the beautiful poster art and a somewhat vague screenshot, I sat down to ready to be surprised. And surprised I was, as the film turned out to be a charming yet effectively honest tale of romance that transcends the genre's endearing and feel-good image and puts up a worthwhile fight with its final segment.
I say semi-anthology because even though the film is clearly divided into four separate shorts, they do connect to form one overarching storyline. Only the second short seems disconnect from the other three, but I probably just missed a simple connection somewhere. At first I was somewhat disappointed to find out that the film was cut up like this, as it was quite difficult to let go of the characters of the first short, but Tsang and Wan justify their choice with their fourth and final short and afterwards I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Lover's Discourse takes a flying start with Hidden Love, where two childhood friends meet up after work for a friendly drink. Both are in a relationship, but not too happy about how things are working out. Karena Lam and Eason Chen have a lot of chemistry going on between them, the tepid pace of the short and the small yet charming details that betray their feelings towards each other are a joy to behold. One thing that's immediately clear is Tsang and Wan's exquisite feel for the visuals, the soundtrack is nice enough though somewhat poppy in places. And even though the short doesn't feature a true happy ending, it does leave you with a warm and contented feeling.
Secret Crush is the second short, also the most light-hearted one of the bunch. It follows Gigi, a young girl working at a laundry shop who's rapidly developing a crush for one of her daily customers. She hardly dares to look him in the eye, but rigorously searches his clothes for clues about the boy's character. With the little information she has she construct several elaborate, far-out and genuinely funny fantasies. Interesting detail here is that the boy in her fantasies is always portrayed by a puppet, which is somewhat made clear during the final scene as Gigi is clearly more in love with the idea of romance instead of the boy himself.
With One-sided Love the anthology takes a more dramatic turn. One-sided Love superficially ties in with the fourth short (at that time still unclear) and plays like a memory of Paul's childhood days. When Paul encounters Sam by chance he recalls falling in love with Sam's mother as a young boy. At that time Paul found out that Sam's father was cheating on his mom and Paul saw his opportunity clear to try and separate the two of them. But Paul is clearly unaware of the commitment and love between two people who've been together for almost a lifetime. One-sided Love may be quite bitter and dramatic, it still shows us one or two essential things about love.
The final short (Bitter Love) proves to be the key to unlocking the film's true brilliance. One day Paul gets a message from an unknown woman (Kay), claiming Paul's girlfriend is cheating him with Kay's boyfriend. Somewhat reluctant Paul decides to find out if there's any truth to this claim. Careful viewers will probably see it coming, but it's not so much the twist that stuns but the way Tsang and Wan allow the viewer to see one event from two different sides without judging any of the parties involved. By detaching both stories from each other the viewer is allowed to feel for both sides, resulting in a much more powerful (and admittedly somewhat confusing) experience. It does leave you a little down, so those of you expecting a feel-good ending should be warned, but the finale really becomes all the more powerful because of it.
Visually Lover's Discourse is a stunning film, the soundtrack is solid but not too spectacular and the acting is all-round impressive. In the end though it's the overarching vision of this film that makes it stand out from its peers, turning it into a beautiful yet somewhat painful romantic story. Unless you're dead set against watching any romantic films, consider this a clear and strong recommendation.