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All Apologies: Hong Kong Review

All Apologies HKIFF Still - H 2013

The Bottom Line

Slightly melodramatic but largely affecting domestic drama that deals in modern couples’ greatest fears.

Venue

Hong Kong International Film Festival

Director

Emily Tang

'Mainland' director Emily Tang returns with her most accessible feature to date.

When the young son of a middle-class Chinese couple is killed in an accident, the father of the boy takes drastic, and criminal, measures to right the perceived wrong in Emily Tang’s third feature, All Apologies. After making something of a splash with the aggressively artistic Conjugation and Perfect Life, the Chinese filmmaker’s first foray into mainstream, accessible filmmaking is a welcome change of pace. Employing straightforward, engaging camera work by Hong Kong cinematographer Lai Yiu-fai and trading in empathetic emotional beats, Tang finally might have found an entry point for general audiences. Festival play is assured, based on Tang’s past films, and though the subject matter is sensitive, limited release in Asia and some overseas markets is a remote possibility.

On a seemingly normal day in a small southern town, construction manager Yonggui (Cheng Taishen) enrolls his only son, the restless Dazhuang, in the best school in nearby Guilin and then heads off to work in Guangzhou. At home, his wife Yunzhen (Liang Jing) spends her day chasing after the typically troublesome child and being a model, if frazzled, housewife. One afternoon Dazhuang sneaks onto their grocer neighbor Heman’s (Gao Jin) delivery truck, which promptly is T-boned by another driver. Heman’s legs are crushed in the accident, but Dazhuang is killed. Furious and distraught, Yunzhen and Yonggui demand compensation, and during a tense hospital visit, Heman snarkily suggests Yonggui get his wife, Qiaoyu (Yang Shuting), to “give” him another child. Fully believing the couple owes him a life, Yonggui sexually assaults Qiaoyu and gets her pregnant.

There are a lot of thorny issues at play in All Apologies, among them the stress of China’s one-child policy that resulted in elective sterility for Yunzhen and Qiaoyu’s quick shift from rape victim to surrogate -- particularly in light of the fact that she actively resisted a second child (hoping for a son) with Heman. When Tang dangles the idea that Qiaoyu and Yanggui might wind up in some sort of twisted long-term relationship, the film almost veers completely off the rails but manages to stay true to its inevitably downbeat path.

Thankfully Cheng and Yang maintain an understated dignity that makes the quagmire drawn by writers Han Jie, Dong Fang and Tang mostly believable and provide much needed introspection when placed alongside the emotionalism of Yunzhen and Heman. Yang, who turns out to be the central character, in particular makes the ethics, sense of (possible) moral obligation and personal sacrifice palpable, and she is one of the biggest reasons the film never crosses the line into soap opera.

Producer: Yang Jian, Chow Keung

Director: Emily Tang

Cast: Cheng Taishen, Yang Shuting, Liang Jing, Gao Jin

Screenwriter: Han Jie, Dong Fang, Emily Tang

Executive producer: Lin Xuerong, Lin Xuefei

Director of Photography: Lai Yiu-fai

Music: Roger Lin

Editor: Chow Keung, Baek Seung-hun

No rating, 90 minutes