Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown
Against the backdrop of the tenth anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to mainland rule, amnesiac Wai pieces together his past life, and discovers that he had a wife and child.
There are certain films that invite certain theoretical interpretations. Todd Haynes’ [Safe], with its phenomenological bracketing of the titular term implying the need to suspend judgement of what safety is for the duration of the film, is one obvious case in point.
Wu/Fog is another, but the explanation is a bit more complicated: In Deleuze, Cinema And National Identity, Scottish film academic David Martin-Jones has argued that an important trend in contemporary world cinemas is the emergence of films which hybridise Gilles Deleuze’s movement-image and time-image as a means of dealing with the complexities of national identity.
The movement-image, best exemplified by classical Hollywood, is a cinema of clear situations and distinctions, where action has an effect. The time-image, associated with Italian neo-realism and the various new waves of the 1960s and 1970s, saw the emergence of the crystal-image, a circuit of the virtual and the actual where the old certainties and distinctions – this is objective, this subjective; this is true, this is false; this is memory, this is dream; action works – broke down.
Tellingly, the simplest form of crystal-image is the mirror image, a shot which writer-director Kit Hui uses to introduce Wai and reprises on a number of occasions, including his encounters with ex-wife Jenny in the restaurant where she now works.
For Martin-Jones a key issue with films that bring together the movement-image and the time-image is which they ultimately favour and the notion of national identity that is implicated thereby. Simplyifying considerably, movement-image resolutions are conservative, insofar as they endorse the idea of a national identity, while time-image (ir)resolutions are progressive, because they question identity.
This is where Fog is particularly interesting. For while there is some degree of remembering and reconciliation between Wai and Jenny, there are also a number of areas that remain deliberately unexplored: Why did they split up? How did Wai’s amnesia come about? Why did his family hide Jenny and his daughter’s existence from him? What will happen next?
Whether by accident or design the personal and national narratives also don’t quite come together. Though we can view them as mirrors for one another, we don’t have to.
All this theoretical stuff would not matter, of course, if the film were not worth watching in its own right. Thankfully it is, with intelligent writing, direction and performances.
Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2010