Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My MOST ANTICIPATED Hong Kong movie of 2016: Heaven in the Dark (暗色天堂) ** contains spoilers**

As mentioned in my previous post, one of the movies that I am most looking forward to this year is Heaven in the Dark, which stars my idol Jacky Cheung reuniting with his July Rhapsody co-star Karena Lam.  I was actually drawn to this movie from the beginning, prior to any filming even being done (so basically when the ‘concept’ for the movie as well as the leads were announced) – of course, a big reason was due to Jacky, since it has been 6 years since he’s starred in a ‘main lead’ role (last movie where he was officially lead was Crossing Hennessy in 2010…all the movies he’s been in since then have pretty much been either cameos or one of the leads amongst a large group of similar level A-listers).  But before I get labeled as a ‘crazy fan’ (probably too late for that, since I know some people have already labeled me as such, lol), let me explain the other reasons why I’ve been so ‘obsessed’ with this movie from the beginning (as well as why the movie is at the top of my ‘must-watch’ list this year).

Aside from Jacky, the second main reason is because July Rhapsody also happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies.  Even though this particular movie has nothing to do with July Rhapsody per se (different scriptwriter, director, cast, production team, etc.), the ‘pairing’ of Jacky and Karena, the dark, controversial theme, the ‘look and feel’ of the overall production, etc. are interestingly similar (though it’s obvious that Heaven’s script is much more complex – that is IF the script remained faithful to the original stage play script written by Candace Chong).  I actually quite agree with one of the points stated in the East Touch article I translated below:  that the story feels like a ‘continuation’ of Jacky and Karena’s distant romance in July Rhapsody

This leads me into yet another reason why I want to watch this movie:  the chemistry between Jacky and Karena.  Whether in July Rhapsody or in the music videos that they filmed together for Jacky’s songs (the most recent being the ones last year from Jacky’s latest Mandarin album released in December 2014), Jacky and Karena continue to have great chemistry on-screen.  I honestly feel that if it were any other pairing with the same story, I may not feel as excited about the movie as I am currently.

Another reason to watch is, not surprisingly, the supporting cast.  With the exception of perhaps 1 or 2 artists, the supporting cast is comprised of artists I enjoy watching, so that definitely makes it an easier sell for me.  Oh, by the way, I’ve been hearing nothing but praise for Anthony Wong’s performance in this movie, even though he only has a few scenes and can pretty much be considered a cameo appearance only.  The court scene in the movie (reference the article below to understand what I’m talking about) is a ‘must-watch’ – I was told that Anthony’s acting in that scene is beyond stellar (pretty much blows everyone out of the water, including the leads).  Of course, I absolutely believe it, since I have confidence in Anthony’s acting skills, but I am still going to wait and see for myself once the movie comes out.

Yet another reason I want to watch – and this is an important reason – is due to this movie being adapted from a famous stage play.  I’ve always had a liking for theater and stage plays, it’s just that here in the U.S., it’s a lot more difficult to watch stage plays unless you live in a place like New York where the theater business thrives.  I try to catch a few local productions whenever I can, but unfortunately, the ‘big name’ productions are seasonal (plus located in far away cities) and the lesser known productions only pop up once in awhile.  Even though I don’t live in HK, I do try to keep up with the theater scene as much as I can -- which shouldn’t be a surprise given my enjoyment of theater for one, but also the fact that many HK movie and television artists I follow also participate in theater.  If I ever get the chance to watch the original stage version of this production, I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it.  In the meantime though, I will settle for watching the movie version.  [Sidenote:  Candace Chong actually published 5 of her most famous stage play scripts into a book that was released last year -- I already ordered the book and am just waiting for it to get here.  I am definitely planning on reading the original stage play script in conjunction with watching the movie, I just haven’t decided whether I’m going to read first or watch first – I guess it depends on when the book actually gets here].

Since the movie is scheduled to premiere in Hong Kong on 3/24 and in Taiwan on 4/15, there will undoubtedly be more promotional events / material for the movie as the dates get closer.  I will continue to update my blog with more information on the movie as I see necessary.  For now though, I’ve included an article below from East Touch magazine that actually does a pretty good job of describing what the movie is about.  There are spoilers in the article though, so please read at your own risk.

On a related note, I do want to say a few things about the HKFA Best Actor and Best Actress nominations that Jacky and Karena received.  For those wondering how a movie that has not been officially released in HK yet can still garner nominations at HKFA -- well, there was actually a 'sneak preview' limited release of the movie in HK theaters back in December (I think there were only 5 showings of the movie over the span of a few days).  This was done in order to 'qualify' the movie for this year's HKFA -- some feel it's a bit of a rush and perhaps they should've waited until next year to participate in HKFA.  To be honest, I kind of have mixed feelings in regards to this.  On the one hand, I am of course tremendously happy for Jacky and there is no doubt that he would've gotten nominated for his performance in this movie anyway, regardless of whether it's this year or next year. This is Jacky's 6th HKFA Best Actor nomination -- previous nominations were for Bullet in the Head (1991), To Live and Die in Tsimshatsui (1995), July Rhapsody (2002), Golden Chicken 2 (2004), Crossing Hennessy (2011).  While I have full confidence in Jacky's performance, the competition for Best Actor this year is actually VERY strong (the other 4 nominees include Andy Lau, Tony Leung Kar Fai, Nick Cheung, and Aaron Kwok -- all reputable actors who have won the Best Actor award before).  Some people have said that HKFA should give the award to Jacky this year since he's the only one out of the 5 who has never gotten the award, but to be honest, as a fan, I definitely DON'T want that...what I want is for Jacky to be recognized for his acting merit and for him to win the award because he deserves it, NOT because of sympathy (plus I know for a fact that's what Jacky wants as well -- he has said in the past that acting is a secondary profession for him and if he hasn't gotten the Best Actor award yet, it's because he hasn't put enough effort and focus into his performance to deserve the award).  In any case, I will absolutely be rooting for Jacky come April 3rd, even though I know his chance of getting the award is not tremendously strong....

Lastly, a FUN FACT about the movie:  watch for a VERY BRIEF cameo appearance by Dayo Wong in the court scene -- he literally only appears for a few seconds so if you blink, you might miss him. He had visited the set due to being friends with some of the production team (plus he's one of Anthony  Wong's good friends) and decided to do an 'ad hoc' appearance as an 'extra' (basically, one of the no name audience members sitting at the back of the court listening to the proceedings).  If you watch the movie, pay attention to that scene and see if you can spot him (though of course, do it the second time around, since the first time you watch, you should be paying attention to the movie itself, LOL).

Heaven in the Dark (暗色天)

Cast:  Jacky Cheung, Karena Lam, Anthony Wong, Helena Law, Wong Hei, Edmund So, Catherine Chau, Michelle Wai

Director:  Steve Yuen

Distributed by:  Emperor Motion Pictures

Premiere date:  3/24/2016 in Hong Kong, 4/15/2016 in Taiwan (not sure if this movie will be shown in Mainland or not)

Trailer (note that this is the first ‘official’ trailer for the movie – as premiere date gets closer, there will undoubtedly be more trailers released):



“A pair of lovers who overstep the boundaries of love”

Source: East Touch Magazine

Article originally published February 3, 2016

Translated by: llwy12

14 years ago, in the movie July Rhapsody (男人四十), the illicit love affair between teacher Lam Yiu Kwok (played by Jacky Cheung) and his student Wu Choi Nam (played by Karena Lam) was heart-wrenching to watch.  As a teacher and husband, Lam seemed to find himself slowly going down a path that he himself had once despised, while Choi Nam, as the student, had no burdens at all and freely sought after the excitement of loving the way she wanted to love.  With Lam in a position that did not allow for certain boundaries to be crossed, this teacher-student love relationship was destined to fail.

14 years later, Jacky Cheung (張學友) and Karena Lam (林嘉) reunite once again, but this time, one plays a pastor while the other is a believer in the faith he preaches.   Without the burden of a ‘taboo’ relationship like they had in July Rhapsody, Jacky and Karena are in the ideal position to openly and freely develop a love relationship.   Unfortunately, their steps are not aligned and both bear quite differing goals within their hearts.  A passionate kiss that they thought would help them break the ambiguity in their relationship turns into a regret that ultimately ends in a life-changing fall from grace.

“A pair of lovers who overstep the boundaries of love, at the same time it is easiest for them to become enemies.”  These lyrics from July Rhapsody’s theme song seem especially fitting at the moment.  Times have changed, our surroundings have changed, our positions in life have changed – the one thing that hasn’t changed:  after 14 years, Jacky and Karena continue to demonstrate [through their newest collaboration] that Love is Difficult (相愛很難).

Continuation of distant romance

In 2002, both Jacky Cheung and Karena Lam received HK Film Award nominations for their performances in July Rhapsody – in the end, Karena was successful in winning both the Best New Artist as well as Best Supporting Actress awards at HKFA.  After that, Jacky and Karena continued to pursue their separate paths [TN: Jacky continued with his music and movie career while Karena also continued to film movies, but also left the industry for a few years to get married and have children] and did not get the chance to ‘cross paths’ again in movies.  It wasn’t until last year (2015), when Karena’s husband Steve Yuen (袁劍偉) decided to try his hand at directing movies [TN:  prior to this, Steve Yuen was primarily a director of commercials and music videos], that the opportunity came up for the two of them to collaborate again in his directorial debut Heaven in the Dark (暗色天).  Adapted from renown playwright Candace Chong’s (莊梅) award-winning stageplay The French Kiss (法吻), Heaven in the Dark actually has nothing to do with July Rhapsody in terms of story, characters, setting, plot, etc. – however, due to the chemistry between Jacky and Karena, their reunion in this movie gives off the feeling that they are continuing that distant romance from 14 years ago.  Even though the movie has not officially debuted in HK theaters yet [TN: the movie premieres on 3/24], both Jacky and Karena have already earned HK Film Awards Best Actor and Best Actress nominations once again for their performances. [TN: This year’s HKFA will take place on April 3rd].

‘Re-trial’ of buried memories

In Heaven in the Dark, Jacky takes on the role of To Tin Ming, a pastor who is also the chief director of a major international charitable organization for the HK region.  With his eloquence in speaking as well as dynamic personality, Pastor To is popular with the masses and can even be considered a ‘celebrity’ of sorts.  Karena plays the role of Michelle, a young woman who takes up an assistant position in Pastor To’s charity and also becomes one of his congregants after being attracted to his charm and charisma.  Both eventually develop feelings for each other, though neither one pursues the relationship further.  Later on, Pastor To decides to accept the position of chief director for the entire Asian region, a position based in England.  On the night of the farewell dinner that Pastor To’s colleagues throw for him, he and Michelle go for a drive at the Peak and before they leave, they decide to finally give in to their feelings and share a passionate kiss together.  Unfortunately, this one kiss changes both of their lives forever.  The next morning, Michelle goes to the police station and files a sexual harassment complaint against Pastor To, who is completely shocked at the sudden turn of events.  The two end up arguing the case in court and after an intense, emotionally draining trial, Pastor To loses the case – with his reputation tarnished, he eventually leaves behind everything he has, including his position as a pastor.

5 years later, Pastor To and Michelle bump into each other again – this chance meeting rekindles long-buried memories of that fateful night where one kiss changed their lives.  After a tense verbal exchange, Pastor To and Michelle are eventually able to piece together the scattered memories from that night. Through a psychological ‘re-trial’ of those memories, the two of them discover the shocking truth of what actually happened that night – an ‘answer’ that no court would’ve been able to give them.

Truth revealed 5 years later

In essence, the entire premise of the movie centers around the question of what truly happened the night of that fateful kiss between Pastor To and Michelle.  How is it that the situation went from two potential lovers acting on their mutual feelings for each other to both parties becoming enemies overnight?  Both the original stage play and the movie begin in a similar manner:  the setting for the opening sequence is 5 years after the conclusion of the sexual harassment court case against Pastor To.  Michelle is married to another pastor and has a child, while Pastor To -- whose reputation was severely damaged by the guilty verdict handed down by the courts – is no longer able to serve in the clergy and has become a businessman instead.  The story is structured in a way that requires audiences to tear away one layer after another in order to find out what truly happened that night.  From Michelle’s point of view, she is unwavering in her belief that the kiss was forced upon her and she did not consent.  However, from Pastor To’s perspective, he remembers that there was consent from both sides, but the influence of alcohol that night caused his memory to be hazy and therefore he could not be 100% sure.  For both, the situation continued to be a thorn in their hearts for 5 years, despite the surface appearance of both having moved on with their lives.  A pair with the potential to become lovers, yet due to crossing the boundaries of love, they can only become enemies in the end.

Caption box:

Background on renowned playwright Candace Chong’s original stage play script

Heaven in the Dark is a film adaptation of stage play The French Kiss, an award-winning theater production written by one of HK’s most renowned playwrights, Candace Chong.  The stage play first debuted back in 2005, right before the start of the Cultural Arts Festival.  At that time, the play consisted of only 3 actors performing against a simple backdrop that remained the same throughout the production -- majority of the plot was brought forth through the dramatic confrontation scenes between the male and female leads.  Many theater critics have praised the ability of writer Candace Chong’s meticulous and well-written dialogue to give the story a tightly intertwined, layered effect.  In addition, the script’s vivid yet simultaneously tension-filled language successfully draws out the complexity of the sexual harassment case in the story, yet at the same time, does so in a subtle and unassuming manner. The production has won several awards over the years, including 2 of its most prestigious – awards for Best Script and Top Ten Most Popular Stage Plays at the 15th annual Hong Kong Drama Awards back in 2006.

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