Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Herman Yau's Nessun Dorma is less shocking than it's schlocky (film review)

From left to right: Andy Hui, Janice Man and 
Gordon Lam Ka Tung star in Nessun Dorma

Cast members present at the film's world premiere, 
flanked by producer Paco Wong and scriptwriter Erica Li 

Nessun Dorma (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2016)
- Screening as part of the HKIFF's Galas program
- Herman Yau, director
- Starring: Andy Hui, Janice Man, Gordon Lam Ka Tung

The day after attending Trivisa's Asian premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), I was back at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's 1,734-seat Grand Theatre for the world premiere of another Hong Kong movie whose "English" title isn't all that English sounding!  As it so happens, Nessun Dorma also stars Gordon Lam Ka Tung, who had been seriously excellent in the cinematic offering I had viewed on the opening day of the film fest.  

And the character actor turned leading man again appeared on stage before the film's screening along with his fellow cast members -- along with scriptwriter Erica Li and producer Paco Wong -- to say a few words to the expectant audience, who cheered particularly loudly after it was announced that the version of the movie being screened that evening was an uncut Category III version that would be more complete than that which will be screened during the film's upcoming theatrical run. 

Directed by Herman Yau (the 2008 HKIFF's filmmaker-in-focus), Nessun Dorma purports to be a psychological thriller but ends up playing more like a exploitation film, with scenes that involve people being tied up and tortured (either psychologically or physically), rape and bloodshed.  At the same time though, while its scenes of sex and violence may trouble in theory, they're often enacted and shot in ways that diminish their impact -- at least for this viewer who may have become hard to disturb after having seen her share of over-sexed characters and ultraviolent scenes over the years -- and make the movie more schlocky than shocking.  

After an innocuous opening scene in a hospital, the film goes back in time to when the patient shown lying unconscious on a bed was attending a performance of Puccini's Turandot and being moved to tears by the opera's Nessun Dorma aria.  Young and seemingly pretty innocent, Jasmine (Janice Man) is engaged to shady businessman Vincent Lee (Gordon Lam Ka Tung) but seems to care far more for the dogs in the pet shelter she runs than her randy fiancé, who has a lot of sex before marriage but not with her.
On the way home from the opera, Vincent announces that he's actually going to stay out, saying he's got some work to get done that evening.  For her part, after getting dropped off at their apartment complex, Jasmine finds an envelope from a friend (Andy Hui) waiting for her and decides to head out to his modest abode rather than upstairs.  

As it soon becomes apparent, Jasmine and this other man have stronger feelings for each other than she has for the rich fellow she's engaged to.  But rather than be satisfied to spice things up with a love triangle, the filmmakers opt to make the story far more dramatic by having Jasmine run into major trouble on her journey home.  Sadly (for the film's audience), the plot "development" that they went for effectively derails the movie by, among other things, involving several improbable actions and requiring a far better actress to make Jasmine's behavior understandable and sympathetic than Janice Man. 

To be fair to Nessun Dorma's lead actress: I think that scriptwriter Erica Li should shoulder part of the blame for the film's main female character being so weak and pathetic.  In all honesty, I'm pretty shocked that a female scriptwriter could create such a feeble female character.  And my sense of betrayal further deepened upon finding out that despite Jasmine featuring in the bulk of the movie's scenes, it's actually a male character who turns out to be its emotional heart.   

My rating for this film: 4.0


Samson said...

Looking forward to your review of the other Herman Yau film at this year's HKIFF, YTSL!

What's your favourite Herman Yau film by the way?

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

I hope to have a review of "The Mobfathers" done some time tomorrow. Sorry, am too tired tonight to write something!

And FYI, I've got two absolute favorite Herman Yau films: "From the Queen to the Chief Executive", and "The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake". Not the titles you were expecting, right? ;b

Samson said...


I know you love "The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" because it was second on your list of Top 10 HK films of 2011!

"From the Queen to the Chief Executive" is a great film too (but no, it didn't come to mind when I thought of Herman Yau's films). : )

YTSL said...

Hi once more Samson --

Wah, you remembered my Top 10 HK films of 2011 rankings?!

BTW, other Herman Yau films I like a lot include "Whispers and Moans" and "Ip Man: The Final Fight".

And have "The Mobfathers" review ready for you read now...


Samson said...

Yes, I remember.

Haven't seen "Whispers and Moans". Will have to check it out!

Will check out your review of "The Mobfathers". : )

YTSL said...

Hi once more Samson --

If you like "Whispers and Moans", then you should also check out the follow up "True Women for Sale". ;)