Ocean Flame



Cannes Film Festival, Un Certain Regard

Screenwriter Liu Fengdou has created the flip side of his directorial debut "Green Hat." While the former is a controversial black comedy about the crisis of impotence, the latter shows the risks of virility. As if to illustrate the Chinese saying that "if guys aren't bad, women don't love them," Liu makes his violent and libidinous protagonist take his girlfriend, his friends, enemies, and ultimately the audience to a threshold of unbearable pain, while occasionally teasing them with a devastating tenderness.

The supercharged machismo and caveman eroticism characteristic of Liu are sure to provoke strong reactions. Some will love it, most will hate it, but his self-proclaimed auteur's voice rings out loud and clear. LA's Katapult Film Sales has picked up non-Southeast Asian world rights of the film but one wonders whether it can be marketed as art or entertainment.

As the Chinese title ("One Half Sea Water, One Half Flame") connotes, "Ocean Flame" explores contradictions -- yin and yang, love and hate, lust for life and obsession with death. Wang Yao (Liao Fan), the leader of a gang that blackmails patrons of prostitutes, cannot stop testing the love of girlfriend Lichuan (Monica Mok). As if physical and verbal abuse is not enough, he pimps her, two-times her and taunts her to slit her wrist. He also cannot stop hurting himself. Neither one can stop desiring the other.

Liu seems to philosophize on suffering as the inherent nature of love (as evidenced by the lyrics of the Taiwanese song at closing credits ("I keep all sorrow to myself and give all of myself to you"), but often, the scenes only test audience tolerance for sadomasochism. His expression of sexuality – full of unrepressed vigor – won't raise any eyebrows in a western theater, but the mental cruelty of the central character will. Kim Ki-duk's "Bad Guy" comes to mind. Liao Fan's psychotic, overblown performance makes his role seem less a real person than an irrational force of nature, or a personification of a raging hormone. The characterization wavers between smirking parody of male insecurity and an idiosyncratic vision of masculinity.

The story is set in Hong Kong but parts of it are filmed in China and it shows. Liu, a mainland native, has little feel for the pulse and locality of Hong Kong, and doesn't notice the awkwardness of having his main characters speak Mandarin while supporting cast speaks Cantonese (even Lichuan and her mother speak different dialects.) His visuals are strongest when he sets his many stagey, roman-porno lookalike scenes against the soothing azure of the sea. The unhurried tempo, the mournful cello score, and the aestheticized sets all affect a European, possibly Latino mood.

Production company: Filmko Entertainment Ltd

Cast: Liao Fan, Monica Mok, Hai Yi Tian, Sukie Shek, Lam Suet, Simon Yam.
Writer-director: Liu Fengdou.
Screenwriter: Bobo Au.
Presented by: Harvey Wong
Executive producers: Stanley Tong, Liu Xiao Dian
Producer: Simon Yam
Director of photography: Chen Ying, Chan Chor Keung
Art director: Li Yang, Raymond Kwok.
Music: Ronald Ng.
Costume designer: Chau Cheuk Wai Kitty
Editor: Kwong Chi Leung.
Sales Agent: Filmko Entertainment Ltd (Asia), Katapult Film Sales (International)
No rating, 115 minutes.