If Feng Xiao Gang is supposedly China’s most successful commercial film director then by all means, bring it on I say!
Unlike Chinese arthouse directors like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yi Mou, Feng is barely known here and that’s almost criminal considering what a solid piece of work Sigh is.
This is my first exposure to Feng’s work too and I was completely taken by surprise by this doomed affair of a married scriptwriter and his assistant. Narrated by the adulterer Liang Ya Zhou (Zhang Guo Li), he recounts the start of his affair with Xiao Dan (Liu Pei) in Hainan, where he was posted by good friend and producer, Liu Da Wei (Fu Biao), so he could get a little peace and quiet to finish some scripts.
What was Da Wei thinking, shacking up an aging scriptwriter with a young, vivacious assistant? But seriously though, the film lays no blame on anyone and does a damn good job of presenting many sides of the story.
Before you could say “bad idea”, Ya Zhou and Xiao Dan has embarked on an affair. Soon, the two mould into their roles of shape shifters adulterers with remarkable ease: Ya Zhou make up lies to cover his tracks, Xiao Dan clean out all traces of herself from his life when his wife comes for a visit. Like all affairs, it’s inevitable they would be discovered and things start to get interesting when Ya Zhou’s wife catches on to them.
The best thing about Sigh is the words that come out from the characters’ mouths – realistic, honest and heartbreaking, delivered by the actors without a hint of affectation. Without stepping into too many clichés, Feng [who also co-wrote the script] manages to steer the actors and the film into riveting and entertaining territory.
Feng shows us the consequences of their actions; the humiliation and the bitter social pills they have to swallow: “‘Lover’ is a too vague concept and not accepted!” according to PRC’s officers in response to Xiao Dan’s answer when asked to clarify her relationship with Ya Zhou, during a routine security check in a Beijing hotel room.
Vague lala-land is exactly where the two have ended up – it’s anything but paradise.
The emotions displayed in Sigh is exquisite and almost tangible – Xiao Dan clings on to her pet goldfish, her tenacious devotion to her fish echoes her devotion to Ya Zhou and similarly Ya Zhou’s indecision is equally wrought with dilemmas – unable to give up on Xiao Dan but is torn between his beloved daughter whom he adores and his vow to his wife.
There are many fine moments, most of them are acerbically honest, funny and amusing. Unlike the many films about adultery I can think of where it usually descends into an overwrought, all-consuming, wretched melodrama [or psycho-killer drama, one in particular], Sigh is certainly a welcome change – it’s Feng’s ode to contemporary Beijing and the love lives of its inhabitants. Upfront, honest and best of all – entertaining!
Even if you read the synopsis and like me didn’t really think twice about it – give it a go. Hopefully Sigh will make it to our screens soon!