HKIFF: Enthralled By Chip Tsao, Not His Film

Posted 2:10 AM March 30th, 2014 by popcorn
Kelvin Kwan in "Enthralled"

The most interesting character in Chip Tsao’s directorial debut “Enthralled” is Chip Tsao. To say the film follows three childhood friends’ vastly different romantic experiences in modern day Hong Kong is superficial and almost incorrect. The underlying story is about a middle-aged, highly controversial commentator sharing his biased views on Hong Kong culture through various characters of Hong Kong society.

Enthralled opens with a quote from John Milton, 17th century English poet best known for Paradise Lost. Thus ends the thought-provoking, literary richness on screen, and begins a film lost in one negative view after another about Hong Kong’s wealthy and younger generations.

The film weaves between three late 20s to early 30s men, from very different walks of life. One is a well-to-do British university educated Director of Citibank (Christopher Goh), who starts an affair with a beautiful model-like wife of a fat and sleazy politician. She justifies her affair quid pro quo -- her husband was cheating on her with a 15 year old from China, so she could cheat too. She remains in the marriage for status and power, and refuses to leave him although the rich boyfriend begs her to leave and marry him.

The second friend is a college professor (Tien You Chui), raised by a single mother who came from a wealthy family. The mother was ostracized by her father for having a child out of wedlock. The college professor spends the rest of his life looking for his father only to discover a man living in the shadows of Hong Kong’s lowest social class. The professor starts a romance with a student from China, who is portrayed as an outcast and rejected by Hong Kong society.

The third friend is a free-spirited hair stylist (Kelvin Chor-yiu Kwan) who becomes a boy toy to a wealthy and selfish divorcee with a teenage son. Their romance eventually turns into a salon business partnership, which eventually goes awry with some logically unsound twists and turns involving the teenage son.

In fact none of the three storylines were logically sound or strongly built, with characters so troubled and morally flawed that none were remotely likeable. Every character in the movie, from the taxi driver in the beginning to the bar tender at the end, had some negative comment about Hong Kong culture. The film stereotypes the rich as selfish, overly-materialistic human beings who have no regard for friendship or their own child. Today’s college students were seen as lazy and inattentive to education. Love across social classes and even mainland China were improbable, and sex was easily had based on good-looks without regard to moral implications, like picking up a married woman from a bar. Society rejects homosexuality and values those who can be versatile and a chameleon.

The entire movie is a bunch of choppy antics, expressing dissatisfaction for the stagnate and lack of positive change in Hong Kong, shown through the eyes of a good-looking cast without much acting efforts. If not for the few sarcastic and humorous scenes, Chip Tsao’s first film would have failed to engage or entertain the audience. Maybe his next one will be a better story without all his highly opinionated commentaries.

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