During the 1980s, amidst the stock market crash and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the movie “Last Romance” combines various elements and the title itself may not be the most important aspect.
So-so and Nancy first met in high school where they quickly became best friends. Nancy’s family also welcomed So-so as one of their own, as she was living with her aunt and cousin in Hong Kong. However, her cousin had feelings for her that were quite bothersome. The two girls eventually became infatuated with a half-Japanese classmate named Jiang-Jia and took turns “bumping into” him after school. They were able to go on a date with him at a theme park, but unfortunately lost his phone number when they left in a taxi. As the years went by, So-so and Nancy went their separate ways in life, but their feelings for Jiang-Jia never faded. And as expected, he reappeared in their lives once again.
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One unique aspect of the film and Yonfan’s writing is that the romance is not the main focus, with a naivety that gives the impression of a lighthearted romantic comedy. Instead, the friendship between the two girls and the setting of Hong Kong during that time take center stage. This results in Jiang-jia’s character and Shingo Tsurumi’s performance suffering, despite their attractiveness. This extends to most of the male characters in the film, creating a feminist yet realistic portrayal.
The greatest aspect of “Last Romance” is the strong friendship between the two girls. They begin as similar individuals but their paths diverge as time goes on, yet they maintain their bond. Yonfan skillfully showcases this through their attitudes and appearance. So-so loses her father at a young age and without the support of a family, she must take care of herself and starts working immediately after high school. In contrast, Nancy chooses to pursue fashion before entering the workforce. This leads So-so to become a hostess and gain wealthy patrons, but at the cost of sacrificing her own desires for money. Her lavish wedding serves as a clear example of this sacrifice, as Yonfan effectively illustrates through her changing homes.
At the same time, despite society’s disapproval of her choices and her father’s judgmental attitude towards her job at a nightclub, So-so proves to be more mature and selfless than Cherie. On the other hand, Cherie remains childlike over the years, as evident in her lack of a boyfriend and her behavior when Jiang-jia returns. This highlights their contrasting personalities and showcases So-so’s forgiving nature.
At the same time, and occasionally through short scenes and longer sequences, Yonfan effectively portrays the impact of major events in Hong Kong’s history during the time period. This is reflected in the lives of the main characters and their experiences with the real estate boom, inevitable crash, and Sino-British Joint Declaration. These events had devastating consequences for those who became wealthy in the 1980s. Cherie’s father’s experiences demonstrate the effects on middle-class families and their changing attitudes towards buying and selling property based on market conditions. So-so’s social circle highlights how the wealthy were affected. The hypocrisy of the upper class is exemplified in Nancy’s father, who criticizes So-so’s lifestyle but is quick to take advantage of an opportunity presented by her rich friend. Lau Siu-Ming gives an excellent performance, stealing the spotlight whenever he appears on screen.
This theme leads us to the feminist perspective in the film, as Yonfan portrays most of the male characters as greedy and lustful, from the classmates of the two girls to the majority of people So-so encounters. The director also highlights the limited options available to women during that time in history, as they were often forced to rely on manipulating and exploiting men for a comfortable life. So-so’s character exemplifies this idea effectively. Additionally, the consequences of these choices are shown through the most intense and poignant aspect of the movie.
When it comes to the performances, both lead actresses, Cherie Chung and Maggie Cheung, deliver exceptional work in portraying the characters of So-so and Nancy. Their contrasting personalities and the enduring bond of their friendship are showcased brilliantly throughout the movie, making it a highly enjoyable watch. Their charm, attractiveness, and on-screen chemistry add to the overall appeal of the film.
Jingle Ma’s camera work effectively portrays the dynamic setting of Hong Kong, showcasing impressive scenes such as those in the theme park and on the beach. Ma Kam’s editing maintains a brisk pace that aligns with the storytelling style. While the flashbacks are strategically placed, there are occasional pacing issues, especially after the girls’ graduation.
“Despite occasional moments of naivete, the film “Last Romance” is largely clever in its presentation of social commentary. The relationship between the two protagonists and their presence throughout the movie make it worth watching, as the film has proven to stand the test of time.”