The Milwaukee International Film Festival, now in it's fifth year, has grown into a nice little festival, and brings a lot of good unusual movies to town. No big stars or anyone but local film makers showing up for the pulbicity side of it yet, but perhaps that will come. We usually manage to get out to one of the major screenings, and this year, we chose "Perhaps Love" ("Ru guo Ai").
"Perhaps Love" is an example of a genre we'd not before seen, a Hong Kong musical in the western style. The local paper write up incorrectly compared it to a "Bollywood" production, but in fact it is a lot more like "Moulin Rouge" done in a circus rather than a nightclub. The music and vocal styles are all thouroughly Western--, not a pentatonic scale to be heard. The orchestrations and voices would not be out of place in a London or Broadway production of "Les Miz" or "Miss Saigon." The music is tuneful and pleasant on the ear.
The plot is rather convoluted due to having much of the exposition in flashback, but can be followed without difficulty. Two of China's hottest stars are acting together for the first time, in a musical to be directed by a famous "auteur" director, Nie Wen (Jacky Cheung). He has been the mentor of the self-absorbed actress, Sun Na (Xun Zhou) through her film career. Her prickly relationship with the male star, Lin Jian-dong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is puzzling until we learn more.
The "real-world" plot mirrors that of the movie being made: the girl has lost her memory including that of her former lover, and is beholden to the circus manager, who has given her a new life and a home in the circus. Her old love finds her at last and attempts to recover her lost memory. In life outside the movie, Sun Na and Lin were lovers until she left him to pursue a movie career with the up-and-coming Nie. She has remade herself with a new life and legend, and does not want to have her poor and somewhat squalid early life recalled. Lin is not so easily put off. When Nie Wen takes on the role of the circus master, the two triangles, within and without the "movie" are complete.
Most of the big production numbers are put in the context of the circus, with more thoughtful solo pieces in the real-life. The circus gives a reasonable excuse for the glitz, plus adding some moments of tension, ala "Trapeze" or "Circus World". Cheung (dubbed "God of Songs" by Hong Kong media), Xun, and Lin (previously seen as an action hero in "House of Flying Daggers") are all excellent singers and carry the emotional action of the film well, even through subtitles. The love story carries palys out love, loss, anger, and revenge in a very nicely crafted script.