If there are comfort foods for the seasons then Milkyway films must be one of my comfort films.
As I was thinking about My Left Eye Sees Ghosts, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai’s latest hit, one film in particular springs to my mind — Needing You. In this case, because Sammi Cheng is again the lead actress but My Left Eye has another secret weapon, the pairing of Sammi with another Milkyway veteran — the dark and stalwart Lau Ching Wan.
The opening scene in My Left Eye shows off all the classic traits. Attending the extremely Christian funeral [right down to the English speaking priest] of her deceased husband of 7 days [yes, 7], May Ho [Cheng] brings out the roast pork, wine and joss sticks to pay her respects, Buddhist style. Yes, this girl does things her own way.
Women characters in Johnnie To films have always been a rather kooky bunch, endearing, yes but always haphazard, off the wall and at times neurotic, to the point of annoyance. Kinki, in Needing You, Mini, in Love On A Diet — Christ, their names says it all doesn’t it?! Maybe it’s because they’ve all been played by Sammi Cheng, which explains why I got the biggest sense of celluloid déjà vu during My Left Eye. As it happens there were more of these moments to come.
For the first hour, she doesn’t score any warm and fuzzy points with the audience. There are no signs of your typical grieving widow but rather we see the self-indulgent May leading an idyllic life off her husband’s wealth, shopping, eating, smoking, drinking and even partaking in a bit of shoplifting to add excitement to her life. In short, she was a very well dressed slacker, a “master of time suckage”, if I may quote that Hollywood Gen-X movie.
Where Love On A Diet failed, My Left Eye fares much better. Although the jokes are not as riotous as Love on A Diet, the humour is more subtle and self-assured. [Except for the numerous in-jokes about the slimming pills – we get it!] Characters are also better written. May isn’t instantly likeable but you warm to her at the end. The only catch is the warming isn’t gradual — you have to take a leap the size of the Nullarbor Plain.
Now I did say I like comforting films but partway through My Left Eye, déjà vu visions haunted me — ‘Hey, I’m sure Sammi gave exactly the same expression in Needing You… or maybe not..’ ‘Wait, isn’t that line from…?’ Sigh! On one hand, My Left Eye is very well done, there’s great direction, humour and heart-warming romance but then it provides no surprises from his last few outings. I can detect that it was really trying very hard to do something different but it ended up treading the comfortable ground constructed so well by To and Wai Ka Fai. This is now in grave danger of becoming a rut.
That said, if you are a first timer to his movies — this will be a very good introduction and if you enjoyed their previous efforts then you will like this too. However, like me, you might also suffer from May’s double vision dilemma: right brain says “I enjoyed this movie — it was pretty cool”, left brain says “I hope his next movie will be more challenging. I’m ready to get out of my comfort zone!!”