Mad Detective writer/director Wai Ka-fai and lead Lau Ching-wan reunite for a sad, soppy, sloppy mess of a film…
After the brilliant Mad Detective, I’ll admit I was looking forward to the latest pairing between that films writer and co-director Wai Ka-fai and its leading star Lau Ching-wan (who first collaborated back in 1997 on Too Many Ways to Be No. 1) – how wrong can you get?
Several years after the loss of her father in a car accident where she, her mother and brother survived, Melody (Mia Yam, Flying Butterfly) decides to write a novel about him to help her family get over their grieving. Blinded by the accident, in her story the roles are reversed, with their blind father (Lau Ching-wan) the only surviving member of the accident. The character in her novel seems to take on his own life, as he too tries to resurrect his family in a story, but tragedy is not far away for Melody.
And so the loop goes round, deliberately building on the confusing layer upon layer of different narratives in order to propel the suspension. At the core there are some interesting thoughts about alternative realities, and characters and scenarios breaking free of their authors intentions, echoing the Pang Bothers Re-cycle or even Stanger Than Fiction (though I guess we all have Charlie Kaufman to thank for that!). Yet unlike Re-cycle Ka-fai dabbles in these themes rather than commits to them, and as the story becomes more fantastical it lacks the both the Pang’s tension and inventive vision, which was more like Alice In Wonderland for grown-ups.
Indeed, between the overbearingly sentimental tone of the piece from the opening scene, right up to increasingly juvenile ideas of lead young adult Melody – with her brother deciding to appear to his father as a (fluffy and stupid looking) dog, a mysterious ‘Ghost Whisper’ (not Jennifer Love Hewitt!) and casting a young version of herself as the operator of a ghost tram, driving ghosts to the after life – this shambolic piece starts to come off more like a kids movie, something like a Studio Ghibli film with all the life and imagination sucked out of it.
Such naivety jars against the darker themes of coming to terms with bereavement and a young adult so in the pits of despair that she contemplates suicide. In Hong Kong itself the film received an IIB rating, the equivalent of a 15 (sort of). It’s reminiscent of Tsui Hark’s equally disappointing Missing, reiterating that films need for a bizarre and ultimately unengaging take on loss. There’s little here to make you connect or sympathise or care about the characters.
There’s no doubting the enthusiasm with which Lau threw himself into the role, even learning braille, but Written By is a convoluted mess. Neither childlike nor adult in tone it’s over simplistic treatment is evocative of the current trend in Hong Kong filmmaking to treat audiences like idiots. Very disappointing…