Love in a Fallen City is a 1984 film that presents the struggling relationship between an introverted Shanghai divorcee and a cynical Malayan playboy amidst the glamour of 1940’s Hong Kong, before and during the invasion by the Japanese.
Director Ann Hui takes an interesting look at the societal standards of the time, especially when a twenty-eight year old divorcee brings shame on her family by leaving her abusive ex-husband.
It’s also an interesting look at how, during the war, all those who we witnessed initially living the glamorous life in Hong Kong’s high society ended up simply struggling to survive, just like the ordinary people they were once above. When insulated by their privileged positions inhabiting a world of glamorous hotels and large ballrooms, there was always talk of fancy Universities such as Cambridge, or living in various European countries such as France or England. After the war, they are tattered survivors struggling to find food and shelter like everyone else; their high society standing meaning nothing in the fallen city of Hong Kong.
Hui presents the glamour of upper class living through her choice of beautiful costumes and luxurious settings. Throughout the film we see Hong Kong’s elite wearing multiple stylish outfits, such as dressy suits, lavish dresses as well as fancy shoes and expensive jewellery. Their attire is complemented by Hui’s choice of luxurious locations such as the beautiful Hong Kong hotel right next to a vacation-worthy beach, as well as the best restaurants and ball rooms Hong Kong had to offer. They inhabit a highly protected world of opulence and indulgence.
Paralleling this life of luxury is the rise of militant Japan, and the invasion of China becomes more apparent as soldiers and military personnel become more prolific in scenes towards the end of the film. When war is eventually declared between the two countries, Hui doesn’t hold back on its horrors, as houses and buildings are torn apart by bombs and countless British fighters and Hotel guests are murdered during ferocious gun battles.
It is interesting seeing Chow Yun-Fat as a young actor and in a role where he plays a flirty and playful playboy who, many times, stares deeply into the eyes of fellow actor, the beautiful Cora Miao. I can just imagine Chinese women swooning in their seats when this film came out in 1984. This is a completely different role to the serious characters we see him in nowadays, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Curse of the Golden Flower.
Love in a Fallen City is a successful drama/romance that demonstrates that during times of war, social standing counts for nothing and, despite war’s horrors, love can still blossom. The full impact of the film may be lost on modern audiences though who may find it slow-moving and dull at times.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Venue: Mercury Cinema
Season: 2 October 2015 only
Duration: 93 minutes