I really wasn’t looking forward to this. There had been passing rumours about some Chinese musical but little more than the name had permeated the most superficial levels of my consciousness. Besides which, a musical presenting itself as ‘Perhaps Love‘ is the kind of thing one tends to avoid when maintaining a macho exterior. Receiving it with an expectation of a review made me regard it as somewhat of a chore (despite my history of reviewing Rom Coms and the occasional Bollywood fluff… OK maybe there is no substantive foundation to said macho exterior).
The film begins innocuously enough, talking about the shifting nature of the roles people play in both their own stories and others – a sentiment I’m sympathetic to.This slowly leads into an Overture-esque musical number that feels derivative and forced. This explosion of colour and motion introduces the outer layer of the plot involving the circus – at which point Jacky Cheung’s director character, Chie An, calls an end to the scene and begins meditating upon the motivations of his three central characters.
While not immediately obvious, this opening scene sets the tone of this film as layers of narrative shift constantly to reflect what is essentially a simple love triangle. Strangely enough, this layering of the musical plot over what happens to the trials of the characters in their ‘real life’ is not just there for an excuse to throw a musical number in (though, yes, it does happen but nowhere near as regularly as expectations had allowed). Instead it becomes the singular expression of Chie An’s perspective of the love triangle and his reflection on his and the other’s roles in it.
In contrast, Kaneshiro Takeshi’s Jian Dong colours his experience in flashbacks and past sentiment. His entire efforts are directed at reclaiming and resolving a lost time and place that forever haunts his sleep. There is the constant sense of him floating through his life – highlighted by his midnight swimming sessions; and a certain numbness in his bearing when not being filmed or living out his regrets.
Zhou Xun’s Sun Na, as the centre of the emotional tug-of-war, never really has moments to show her perspective or actually act rather than react, since she is forever framed within the contexts of the two male leads. There are moments of ambition and fickleness that reflect the ‘Monkey King’ nickname she adopts in her past, but the present has her trapped between keeping her distance from Jian Dong while the canyon dividing her and Chie An ever grows.
Perhaps Love focusses upon the relationship between Jian Dong and Sun Na with Chie An as almost an obstacle they must overcome to be together. Fortunately this is done primarily in flashback before they are both more battle-weary. Kaneshiro does numb very well, which is stark against his frequent laments of regret and interesting in that his best lines seem to come from a tape recorder. Zhou Xun is similarly very good in her reactions to the two men and it’s a shame that she doesn’t sing more numbers or play a more active role in the film. Jackie Cheung as a fading director is as surprising as his singing voice (assuming that is his). The final star, Ji Jin Hee, seems very token. As the one opening and closing the film, he occupies the space of storyteller and, consequently, becomes invisible one the story gets going.
The musical numbers are few and far between so hardly overbearing. As a parallel story they are really there to drive the point rather than to make it, or worse yet, provide a distraction – a practice that is perhaps central to my problems with a number of Bollywood films. Overall Perhaps Love is a surprising treat and much more intelligent than the packaging would suggest.