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Film Review: July Rhapsody (2002) by Ann Hui
Film Review: July Rhapsody (2002) by Ann Hui

Film Review: July Rhapsody (2002) by Ann Hui

“You fought with mom again?”

Directed by Ann Hui and written by Ivy Ho, who actually won a number of awards for her work, “July Rhapsody” presents a portrait of middle life crisis, by additionally including a rather interesting back story that finds its parallels in the present.

July Rhapsody will be screening in Canada and the US starting May 11th, while it will be coming out on home video in September, courtesy of Cheng Cheng Films

Lam and Ching have been married for 20 years and have two sons. While their relationship is smooth, Lam feels that his friends, who have found financial success in the entertainment and business sectors, are more accomplished than him, and their belittling every time they meet does not help. Lam is a teacher of classic Chinese literature at an elite school, and is happy with his job actually, but there is an issue there too. A rather beautiful, smart, and sure of herself student, Wu, has made the fact that she is in love with him quite clear, with her provocations being almost constant.

The parallel we mentioned lies somewhere here, as Lam and Ching were schoolmates, but she had a relationship with her teacher, Mr Sheng. Even more, their first son, Yue, is his, although Lam has taken care of him from the beginning, becoming his father in essence. The young man, however, does not know the truth, and the decision to tell him is weighing heavily on both his parents. At the same time, the reemergence of Seng, who is now old, alone and dying, has Ching spending more and more time with him in the hospital, something that gives Lam more time to spend with Wu, who continues her teasing flirting non-stop. Gradually, his walls start to crumble.

Check the interview with the director

Although the premise of the movie is a bit soapy, Ann Hui’s direction and Ivy Ho’s writing actually elevate the material to a much higher level. One of the ways this is accomplished is the inclusion of poetry in the narrative, frequently appearing throughout the movie, as much as the Yangtze river as symbolism. Hui’s love of Hong Kongese poetry is well documented, and was actually presented recently in her documentary “Elegies”, and in “July Rhapsody” actually finds one of its zeniths.

In the same fashion, and although the concept of a teacher flirting with his student is not exactly new in cinema, the way it forms a parallel with the way Lam and Ching came to be, adds a very intriguing note in the whole concept, essentially making it rather unique. In the same fashion, the way Wu gradually gets under her teacher’s skin is quite appealing to watch, with Jacky Cheung as Lam and Karena Lam as Wu having an impressive chemistry throughout the movie, in probably the most appealing arc here. The way Ching revisits her (romantic) past upon the appearance of Sheng while Lam is looking for some change in his life offers a very interesting antithesis, while also highlighting the chemistry between Anita Mui and Jacky Cheung this time.

That this aspect is connected with the decision to reveal to their son their truth adds a rather appealing dramatic essence to the movie, which finds its apogee in the revelation scene. The result is that Ching feels relief, but Lam that he has tied a loose end, which makes him look at a different future even more.

In that regard, it is also worth mentioning three scenes. The montage of Ching narrating her story with the professor is impressive, also for how truthful she is about both the situation and her son. Kwong Chi-leung’s editing, which implements a very fitting, relatively fast pace throughout the movie, finds its apogee in this scene. The second is the discussion between husband and wife in the end, which does emerge as a twist of sorts, but most of all, is where the emotion and the drama that dominate the movie meet their zenith, in probably the most memorable sequence of the whole movie.

Pun-Leung Kwan’s cinematography captures the various settings the story takes place in with realism, without any particular exaltation, perhaps with the exception of a few scenes having teacher and student together. The new restoration also looks quite good, particularly regarding the coloring.

“July Rhapsody” is an excellent film, one that highlights how Ann Hui can take the cliche and even the mundane and elevate it to a true piece of art, and one that can easily be described as deceptively simple.