Sunday, January 27, 2013

ON DVD: SPEECHLESS -- This quiet, semi-silent melodrama is Simon Chung's best yet

It has been awhile since Simon Chung's early, full-length films First Love and Other Pains (1999) and Innocent (2005). Both were flawed but certainly worth seeing. I missed his End of Love (from 2009), but now we have this Chinese-by-way-of-Canada filmmaker's latest (and definitely the best that I've yet seen): SPEECHLESS -- in which a very good-looking young man disrobes at the side of a river, then floats naked down to the sea and is later found by a group of schoolkids, alive and washed up on a beach. He is soon taken into police custody -- we're in China, it seems, though this fellow is Caucasian -- given some clothes and then questioned. But our hunk, though he can hear, is unable (or unwilling) to speak.

Mr Chung, shown at right, enjoys toying with us, offering small hints of the past as his movie moves along. After a short stint with the police, Mr. Mysteri-ous is moved to a nearby hospital (we're clearly in small-town China, rather than any metropolis), where a young orderly takes a fancy to our stranger and tries to help him.

From there, events (somewhat melodramatic but never uninteresting) pile up, and we are introduced to a few other characters, most notably a young woman (very well played by Yu Yung Yung) who appears to know this man of mystery -- though in what way and exactly what she was to him remain foggy, if not deliberately skewed.

At this point, the past becomes more than the mere tiny flashbacks we've been given, and the story, via lengthy remembrance, fleshes out, as our silent hero speaks -- if only in time past. He's a Frenchman, played by an first-time actor (Pierre-Mathieu Vital, shown above and below), whose comely face and svelte body should coral most viewers of a certain persuasion.

The movie's quietness and restraint go a long way toward making it work as well as it does. As the plot grows more florid, with more information revealed, the film has hooked us well enough to allow our suspension of, well, not quite disbelief. But after leaving us in the dark for so long, and then hitting us with a number of big events, one after another, until we reach the heavy-duty climax, Mr. Chung is taking quite the chance.

Overall, though we hold on, partly because we've been hooked and also because of the two Chinese actors who plays the other important roles: one enlisted to play mystery man's current helper (the sweet, sincere Qilun Gao, above, right) and the other a more sophisticated dreamboat named Han (Jian Jiang, below center), the university student who embarks upon something new and exciting, relationship-wise.

More than a hint of misogyny hangs over these proceedings, mostly due to the character portrayed, and well, by Ms Yu (center, left, above), who does more than a bit of damage, some of it permanent, to all concerned. The other women characters, however -- from the female police officer who finds the naked stranger to the mother of the sweet hospital orderly -- are written and played as kind and caring.

There remains something special about a speechless person that usually draws enormous sympathy, particularly when that person is played by a good-looking actor. That's certainly the case here, and it, along with all else mentioned above, goes a long way toward making Speechless an enjoyable, moving melodrama.

The movie, from QC Cinema, a division of Breaking Glass Pictures, and running 96 minutes, is available now on DVD.


A perpetual student said...

Thanks for the well-considered review.

James van Maanen said...

And thank YOU, PS, for taking the time to post your comment! (I'm beginning to think that most of us, in school or not, are still perpetual students.)