‘A Complicated Story’: Film Review | Micah Sevilla 2017

 

‘A Complicated Story’: Film Review |

Micah Sevilla 2017

February 7, 2017

 

With a college degree nearly at hand and a budding romance with a loyal and sacrificial lover, Liu Yazi, a young independent woman from Mainland China, could have just yielded to her pre-programmed course of life- graduating from college and pursuing a career at the metropolitan city of Hong Kong,  or maybe even building her own family at the fast-paced city full of angst and diverse, liberated views- a dreamy city  that entertained thousands of possibilities, including absurd ones, such as surrogacy;  but due to a sudden need to suffice her brother’s medical surgery, the average and the so-called peaceful life of Liu Yazi turns into one roller-coaster ride, where she’s whisked away to a private villa to live in seclusion and be a surrogate mother for an elite couple.

 

Just when she thought everything is falling into place, the truth came crashing upon her, pushing her forth to her toughest decision yet– when the client, celebrity Tracy Ty, terminates the contract and forces Yazi to abort the child in her womb. In her zeal to keep the baby, Yazi took a different turn that will drastically change her life forever- as she runs away and escapes from her benefactors in order to keep the baby alive. That big decision she’s made- which is a make or break for her and her newfound life in the city- spiraled into a whirlpool of complicated chaos that tested her inner strength and convictions, and places her in all sorts of uncomfortable and frustrating situations she’s not prepared for.

 

Setting at Mainland China and Hong Kong, Kiwi Chow’s debut film not only explores the issue of surrogate motherhood and abortion, but also extends beyond the underlying theme, exposing the very authentic roots of resorting to it, such as monetary issues, secret frustrations, loveless marriage, and pedestal views on family building. Director Chow’s exquisite take on the Yi-Shu based novel stayed true to itself, weaving the characters’ stories in the most genuine way possible, with remarkable cinematic techniques and controversial, cliff-hanging elements in the script that made the movie elevate to an effortless, unpredictable note. As a completely different storyline was devised by writer Kei Shu and the ever hands-on director, Kiwi Chow, the movie is expected to give a brand new paradigm to the story as compared to the book, but Zhang Yin’s cinematographic skills proved resilient to the pressure, and was able to unfold the story like a revelation, a gravitating story that  never runs out of surprises and poses  new questions among the audience from time to time, while presenting the story in the most natural pace and setting, with instrumental background music and superficial digital effects kept to a minimum.

 

The first Kiwi-Chow film took on the melodramatic plot to a strong start, picking a suspenseful kind of scene under a dark, bluish lighting to kick it off- a startled man coming in from a dark corner, carefully creeping his way to a door and slowly opening it, with the diegestic sound of a crying baby resounding on the background while the door creaks open. Upon opening of the door, a woman lies in bed- and a shift to the white lights of the hospital ward slowly took over, eventually turning over the focal point of the film from the man to the unconscious woman, who turned out to be Liu Yazi, the film’s main protagonist. From that first scene that sparks up any spectator’s attention, comes the woman’s melodramatic narration of her life, 3-part breakdown of her tale that started through snippets of the characters’ current status, and then transitioned to the first ever-scene that kicked off her complicated story.

 

The director  has  done a great job of delivering the story in an  efficient manner, stirring the curiosity of the audience right at the very first frame, then giving out bits of significant details one at a time through a well-crafted flow of scenes and cleverly-written script that  takes advantage of flashbacks, diversified camera shots and angles, ideal lighting circumstances, symbolic depictions, and interplay of various transitions,  letting the story unravel mysteries and answer queries in a well-paced manner, a gradual progress that’s just perfect, not too forced out and not too fast. Technicality-wise, the film is almost flawless, with most of the cinematographic techniques used suggested movements and amplified emotions, facial expressions, body language and unspoken thoughts of the characters.

 

For a newbie in the film industry, it’s amazing how the director perfectly  translated the intense emotions to camera shots and movements, making use of  closeups, extreme close ups, midshots, panning from left to right shots, worm’s eye view shots and canted shots to capture the best of emotions, while keeping everything as authentic as possible in every angle: the direction of scenes, the shift in lights, the establishing shots and the  black fadeouts all made a perfect blend to produce a coherent and natural-looking screenplay. The minimalist approach to image enhancement, digital alterations, sound effects, and musical scoring kept the scenes flow naturally yet effectively, with most of the credits attributed to the creative improvisation of shots, such as the director’s frequent use of two-dimensional stories in a single shot, or the incorporation of two sets of characters that have two different perspectives to tell, in a single frame. One of those hefty shots is the high-grade, aerial shot of the grassy kiddie park that showed how the two characters, Liu Yazi and Yuk Cheong, are doing separately within the same enormous area.

 

The cinematographer also incorporated the blurring effect to emphasize shift of focus among characters in a single frame. Liu Yazi’s formal meetings with Attorney Kamy and Doctor Wan for instance, always make use of this blurring effect, where the camera would go for a slow 360-degree turn around the three characters until it stops to a point-of-view shot of the two characters that will subsequently converse, and the transfer of camera focus occurs thereafter. The blurring effect also created a dramatic impact in revealing the inner thoughts of the characters, such as during Liu Yazi’s hospital visitation that implied her secret dream to be a mother. The scene featured a wide shot of hers on the extreme right and happy families on the left, wherein the cameraman switched the focus from Liu Yazi by blurring her image to emphasize the joyous couple with their baby.

 

Some of the standout scenes in the film that exuded genuine emotions and appeal include Liu Yazi’s fetal scan with Doctor Luk, which is characterized by an extreme close up of her blinking, restless eyes, as well as an extreme closeup shot on her fidgetty hands, that gently shifted to a canted body shot on the tensed, bed-ridden Yazi, when the doctor allowed her to hear the heartbeat of her twin babies- making it look pretty sentimental as the canted shot slows down and the only audible thing as of the moment are the babies’ loud thugs of heartbeat.  In spite of the absence of words, Yazi’s deep-welled joy and anticipation for motherhood was felt across the cinema house. Basically, the camera is constantly in motion, and each scene is carefully planned in terms of the positioning and the distance of the cast and the cameramen, making the movie totally engaging to the senses, as if we’re also part of the film.

 

Proper control of music is such a crucial element in bringing out the best in each dramatic scene, for music can either define the moment or monotize the emotional surge when imported at the wrong timing.  The film’s musical director successfully accentuated the height of emotions through the interplay of momentary pauses and shift in dynamics, where the instrumental music is played with certain interruptions to dramatically highlight the speaking character’s words. The mellow music of violin and guitar accompaniment suits the predominantly dramatic film, with almost the entire film banking on natural sounds (NATSOT) of busy roads, screeching cars and beach waves, among others.

 

The commendable cinematography of Zhang Yin also included an impeccable lighting direction that definitely suits the ever-changing tempo and mood of the story. The three-part film presents the highs and lows of each character, which demands a coherent shift from dark lighting to light-hued lighting, and vice versa.  Breaking down the exploits of the characters entails a smooth shift of lighting themes from time to time, and it was exquisitely done by the cinematographer, making similar patterns of scenes easily identifiable according to lighting mood.

 

The shift from the highs and lows consist of five common lighting themes- the dim, yellow lighting, bright yellow lighting, grayish-blue light, illuminated light,  and the rest is natural lighting. Yellow lighting undeniably proved conducive for deep, intimate conversations, with dim, yellow lights overtaking most of Liu Yazi’s confidential meetings with Attorney Kamy and Doctor Wan, while bright yellow lights lent the romantic vibe during an isolated talk between Liu Yazi and her boyfriend, Law Chun Ming. Grayish-blue lighting, on the other hand, works best for Yazi’s gloomy and painful episodes in her room, including her secret breakdowns and stressful pregnancy. For a playful and carefree vibe, the cinematographer also injected an illuminating effect to a series of scenes held at a park, where kids are running around, fumbling with kites, and are brimming with pure childish glee. Liu Yazi’s fascination with bubbly kids and with warm, loving families was clearly-demonstrated in the scenes,  where she even trodded on the grass barefooted,  twirling around like a little girl whisked in a dream. In the same set of fancy scenes comes a giddy element of surprise- tycoon Yuk Cheong, the biological father of Yazi’s babies, becomes totally smitten with the ever-blushing Yazi.  The illuminated onscreen appeal actually justified the subsequent, romantic scenes between Yuk Cheong and Liu Yazi.

 

A silhouette of a man darting past the door is also an ideal lighting effect in one of the scenes where a certain stranger starts knocking on Yazi’s door- a suspenseful scene which heightened Yazi’s anxiety. Another incredible lighting effect injected to the movie is the natural rays of the sun that penetrated in one of the church windows where Yazi was standing by- a round ball of radiant light that shone brightly on her face that made her look like the ever-glowing face of the Virgin Mary.

 

The pool of cast members also did not disappoint, as they nailed the roles they portrayed as if the roles were tailor-made for them. Liu Yazi’s innocent yet infallible inner strength was perfectly delivered by Chih-ying Chu; Yuk Cheong’s masculine and regal persona, suits Jacky Cheung perfectly; while Cherri In’s take on the role of mean girl tabloid starlet Tracy Ty doesn’t look like film-acting at all. Not a single actor outshined another; the casting was superb.

 

The most fascinating thing to me, though, is the development of the characters as each chapter unfolds. Revelatory insights on the film’s characters intensified the plot’s element of unpredictability, making it a totally explosive one to watch out for. The first time the ever strong-willed Kamy softened her eyes and narrated her painful past to Yazi is truly moving, and seeing the civilized and the seemingly-unromantic Yuk Cheong finally rediscovering his soft spot in Yazi’s alluring persona is such a heart-warming scene. But the most groundbreaking unveiling of ‘depth’ among characters is definitely Liu Yazi, who showed off her vulnerability and fears as a young woman like any damsel in distress does, something that’s far-fetched from the independent and gutsy girl she used to be since day one.

 

With a totally relatable story to boot, “A Complicated Story” is one straightforward, heart-wrenching story that is filled with valuable teachings on family, self-acceptance and love- three important aspects to a person’s life that is somewhat a gauge of one’s purpose and satisfaction.

 

Yazi was indeed confronted with the reality she’s been afraid to admit all her life- she’s been living a pretentious life, and has always been wallowed by emptiness and self-denial, hoping that child-bearing would redeem her and give her a sense of direction. Just like Yazi who is always on the run, we may also be running away from certain truths in our lives, intimidated to face the reality head on and disheartened to wrestle with the challenges that come with pursuing happiness- our own version of happiness. Oftentimes, the biggest stumbling block to our happiness is not anyone or anything else, but our very own selves. But how do we deprive ourselves of happiness?

 

Compelling as it may seem, our personal convictions tend to complicate our lives instead of straightening out things for us, as we follow a silhouette of stereotypes and embrace roles cut out for us, instead of choosing the path that really defines us. And as we live a life of pretense, we tend to make crucial decisions emanating from the wrong intentions, as we try to cover up for the loopholes we have with ourselves- and the cycle goes on and on. Far beyond the issues of abortion and motherhood, “A Complicated Story” is a story about people’s secret pains and frustrations, and how these unresolved issues result to wrong motives in decision-making. Harry Potter’s right when he said that, “It’s our decisions that define us- far more than our abilities.”

 

Life throws in unexpected packages in the form of hardships and tribulations, but it will also deliver opportunities to salvage us in more ways that we can imagine. And for Yazi, she has finally found the “music” and “melody” to her out-of-tune life, and this time, she’s making a decision that’s truly her, and sticks with it.

 

P.S. Liu Yazi named her twins, “Music” and “Melody.”

 

 

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Everybody’s Fine: A Common Family Story

After seeing the film “Everything’s fine” and after a critical analysis of the elements of the movie, here are some of the good and bad points I noticed about the film.

First is the plot. The plot is a little common and already been shown in other films. That is why it was easy to predict what is going to happen in the film. Like for example, it was kinda predictable that the eldest daughter of Zhiguo, Qing, was already been

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Everybody’s Fine Official Poster

divorced with her husband even before revealing it afterwards. Also, it was predictable that the youngest daughter Chu is a lesbian and has an affair with another girl. Aside from that, the plot is okay.

 

Next is the cinematography. Actually it was awesome. Shots were taken on the exact place it should have. Best shot for me was the bird’s eye view of Chu and his father Zhiguo was in the car going off to the bridge. It was good because it shows the beauty of the whole place.

About the screenplay, I think it was good especially the punch lines. I remember that everyone on the cinema was laughing so hard when the punch lines were delivered right. One thing I don’t like about the script was the confrontation scenes. The father always leaves with nothing to say whenever there is a confrontation between him and anyone from his children. This makes me think that the scriptwriters run out good idea for this matter.

Two of important elements of a good film were props and effects, both can be observed in the movie. I like the effect where the father Zhiguo would see his child and flashback the way they look when they were younger.

Music also plays an important part in the movie. The music suits every scene from the film giving a proper and appropriate mood for the scene. Like when Chu and her Father were chased by some bad characters. The music was fast and upbeat which was suit best the chasing scene. The music helps in setting the mood for the scene.

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Youngest Daughter Chu (Ye Quanyu)

 

As for the actors, I’m not quite impressed and satisfied with their acting, ‘cause I know they can do better. Some of them are good but some of them lack emotion.

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The eldest daughter Qing (Yao Chen)

Throughout the movie, what I can say the best part of the film was when Zhiguo (the Father) passed out and after opening his eyes, he saw his kids in their young versions. It was the best part for me because this is the part where the movie is being concluded and the questions clouding the main character’s mind were being answered. The script in this scene was good and I can say that this is the highlight of the movie.

Everything’s fine is actually a good film. It tackles about the common family issues and problems which gives the audience the lesson about the importance of family in everyone. So if I’m going to rate this movie, I would say that it deserves a 7/10 rating and was highly recommended for family audiences.

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Complete family picture of Guan Zhiguo (Zhang Guoli), Hao (Chen He), Qing (Yao Chen), Quan (Shawn Dou), Chu (Ye Qianyu) and Qing’s son from the last part of the movie

By: Ugaban

Everybody’s Fine: Movie Review of Guan’s Travel

By Elton Ongjoco

Everybody’s Fine is a Chinese adaptation of the Italian movie with the same name by Guiseppe Tornatore. The Chinese version is directed by Zhang Meng and I haven’t watched any films he directed except this one. I also haven’t watched the original Italian film but this version of the film starring Zhang Guoli is a good but not that good film.

The story is about a widower whose name is Guan Zhiguo, portrayed by Zhang Guoli, traveling to his children throughout China to relive the memories of his deceased wife. The movie shows some typical lifestyle of a Chinese household and some comedic life of a lonely father. It is somewhat artistic that I think will not appeal to the younger audiences, I guess the comedic side will do. Zhang Meng managed to blend the comedic and serious elements of the movie; it has some plain acting maybe because of the indie like vibe of it which is good, for it creates emotion, ironically. It is full of dad jokes then it will become a serious dad talk and most of the movie is serious dad talks.

Guan’s travel story started when his children told him that they will not go to their yearly summer gathering so he planned to surprise them by visiting them in their houses. Guan’s children is scattered along China, there’s one in Tianjin, Hanzhou, Shanghai and Macau.

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Guan (Zhang Guoli) with her daughter Qing (Yao Chen)

When he visited every one of them, they all seem to be lying and most of it is white lies, just not to make him worry. So in the end they gathered altogether having a good time in the festival.

Zhang Guoli acts very natural that even the way he moves and talks, looks and sounded like my dad. By the way he acts, you can see that he is a veteran in Chinese films, though I never seen some films that he has been too. He easily portrayed the character of happy disappointment in a flesh.The other actors and actresses are good and sometimes boring maybe because it is what said to them. They really portrayed different characteristics of different human beings.

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Guan and his family celebrating spring festival or the ending

 

The artistic side of the film was seen in its beautiful shots showing the authentic Chinese household and its hard city life. The cuts were remarkable especially in the scenes where the little version of Guan’s sons and daughters. With the help of the nostalgic and orchestral post-rock music, the film delivers an emotional ride in human’s different experiences and circumstances it is going through.

Everybody’s Fine: Just fine

by John Elmo Canonio

Everybody’s fine” is surely a family oriented film and everyone can surely relate to the story no matter what status you are currently having with your family. This movie tells about the importance of honesty and the essence of time that every parent should invest with their children.

The casting is halfway great because based on what I saw the casts weren’t that convincing for their roles, they will portray what they have to portray for their role but they leave no impact on their assigned roles. The movie tackles a serious matter and in order to pull it off or to greatly express the message or intentions of the movie, the actors should be convincing for their acting roles. Although this is the matter, it didn’t cost a movie alot, not even a bit.

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I like how realistic is the setting of the movie, the movie shows the pretty and the awful side of the modern china. I like how the setting took part in portraying each characters personality and situation. One example is how they portrayed how succesful Qing is as a director, and also Guang’s home, I like how they portray the simplicity of life that an old man like Guan can have. It really played a big part in the movie and it the development of the movie.

The plot is the most important thing that moviegoers loves to see. In this movie, honestly, I found the plot of the story to be simple, I know that playing with the plot is a dangerous proposition because it can mess the whole story up, but when the movie goes plain like this one, it will not guarantee that the viewers will hold on til the end, especially when you passed the 1:15 hour mark of the movie. The plot or the outcome of Hao, almost everyone is interested on what could’ve happened to Hao his whereabouts and how his brother and sister’s try to hid this news to their father gets everyone interested. The plot of Hao suddenly became uninteresting when they finally revealed what happened to him without even elaborating what exactly happened to him, and the interesting plot ended up unexcitingly when Guan’s children revealed it to him on a hospital scene.

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In general, the movie turns out to be fine, its good in overall and if I’m gonna rate it, I will rate it 6/10. The director maybe can do better on their next project and writers can work better with the plot, that’s what I’m looking forward to. This is how I find the movie, but at the end of the day, this is an art made by the director, maybe he plans to make it plain and simple due to the expected audience and maybe because the movie is something that needs to be taken seriously he may have seen that playing with the plot is not an appropriate thing to do. All in all, this is a good movie and this is the kind of movie that every family needs to watch.

Everybody’s Fine: Gives You the Slice of Life but not the Whole

The movie “Everybody’s Fine” is a comedy-family-oriented film released in January of 2016 and is also the second remake of the Italian film with the same name which was initially released in 1990. The film revolves around the journey of the recently-widowed Guan Zhiguo portrayed by Zhang Guoli who decided to visit his kids after their cancellation to their annual summer visit. After visiting his four children, he, then finds out that the life he expects them to have turns out differently.

The film turns out great however, I haven’t watched the first two movies stopping me from comparing which actor portrayed the father best. In the movie, his sons and daughters didn’t reveal to their dad what really happened to them and always tell him not to worry yet, it wasn’t revealed in the movie why they’re avoiding him to worry. If it was the heart disease their worried of, it wasn’t clear for the audience that his kids already know about his condition. Questions pop in my mind about their mother’s personality given that Guan Zhiguo, the father is always away from home and he doesn’t actually know how his wife is treating their kids and why his sons and daughters always avoid conversations leading to dialogs about their mom.

But the film teaches a handful of slice of life especially of being a father who missed his kids growing up. It makes me think what if that story happen to me, will they hide the truth from me too?

By: Dantes

Image source: Loud Green Bird

Everybody’s Fine: No Spoiler Review

A father isolated from his children will go through any lengths just to be with them again, for there is nothing more daunting than having no knowledge on what is happening to loved ones.

Everybody’s not fine, when we expect them to live perfect lives. The film perfectly captures how parents grieve when their dreams for their children are not met, especially when all of them are not living up to their expectations. The raw expression of emotion on part of the actors makes the film very emotional, and although a drama, it manages to add a dash of comedy between each scene to uplift the sorrowful moments.

The movie relied heavily on the father’s memories of his children to give a background on them which was done well, the same as how parents tell their kin about special memories they shared together. Another plot element that added quality to the film was being able to see the world through the father’s eyes, the shifts between the real world and the father’s head, although without transition, was easy to discern and made the film more interesting.

The shots were done great; it closes up to the characters on tense moments to show their emotion and gives a clear view of the land whenever the characters are traveling. The music was also done great, it did not feel out of place and each location would have a different feel because the music changes along with it.

But no film is perfect; it had some minor flaws that are worth mentioning. One event that was quite bothering was the inclusion of an awkward romance moment between the father and a side character, the scene never went anywhere, it was just there for a moment but it was never followed by anything else. Another weak moment was the prostitute scene; it had no bearing on the plot and was not needed in the film.

Despite these flaws, however, the film was satisfying to watch. It portrayed family struggles in a true to life manner, all while having fun moments that hit close to home. And if there’s one lesson to learn from the film, it is to always value family, whoever you are and wherever you may be.

By: Danganan