Floating City 浮城 (2012)
Character studies in cinema are a wholly subjective matter, a genre that proves a filmmaker has “it” or not. It is not a simple here nor there, a present thing like that of action or horror. Rather, this form is experiential, demanding a slower approach, a full awareness in a character’s seemingly genuine struggles to survive and make something of a life. We pay to go to a movie (or, in the immediacy of today\’s technology, Netflix instant stream) a person make ambitions, process this sometimes confusing, complicated world through the eyes of others, all those passing by, and jot for translations, make it usable to send off in a narrative box of goodies to stash away, a sharing of value. Circumstances, they play no part, if your motive for change is conformitive enough to take you toward the end, and I am made all weak and gushy when it is done right.
This genre has the greatest capacity to move a viewer, I find, as it can cause a guttural urge to do more good, whether that reaction is immediate or delayed. When done right, it is known, even if it is hard to articulate what and how it affected. The story stays. It says something, a tailored intent for you, and you alone.
For Yim Ho’s Floating City, the character study of Bo, an abandoned baby boy turned matured, wealthy businessman, the plot is typical, and it\’s often difficult to find a one that breaks off the beaten past, that doesn\’t trip over itself trying to be bigger than expectation . This one though, Floating City, is not like those. It is a masterful epic that remains true to roots, although it sometimes gives a tedium through its heavy handed view on God and the sea, heaven all between.
From poverty to the posh, the story starts suddenly. Perhaps too much is given too quickly, as it zips to characters without much detail or immediate back story. It is providing clues for you to take mental snapshots (you\’ll need them to piece together tidbits to come), and a span of ten or so minutes of a boat at sea, a mother\’s miscarriage, an acceptance of an adopted, mixed son (the blued eyed Chinese boy Bo), and some preliminary filler claim the frame. There, we take a long step forward to present day Hong Kong. Bo, the “half-breed” is prosperous now, living in a beautiful home, polished for a night out at a company party. He is not the same fisher boy from moments prior. He has much, the fame and the family, but not without struggle. He makes this much a given, and we\’re left to follow him as he narrates, questions and all. What does it all mean to be rich and famous if not for a good enough reason? With that, he looks into his reflection and asks, “Who am I?”
God & the Sea
What makes this experience rewarding is imagery/composition. It uses elements of classical Hollywood film making such as tempered music and massive visuals to make it feel so much more grandiose than it should be.
The score is integral to the tone throughout. Slow piano riffs and voice hums are classical ingredients to set the dramatic scenes up for maximum enjoyment, and it should seem unnecessary, almost too busy. It works. It should be a pain having to listen to long stretches, frustrated that it happens so often. Here I say it fit well. The music is needed. It prepares the viewer for a fitting fixation on characters, their obstacles, and circumstantial risks that follow. The cast was a wonderful ensemble that deserve recognition. They give the right elements of the film\’s time, setting complementary dynamism in conversations, spoken and not. Bo\’s father, mother, siblings, business colleagues, friends, all of them, they are staged to show varied grit, vignettes on different living.
It\’s a neat script that made a gradual climb to its peak. This film is nice, leaving me with some dried up sobs. Often though movies lose their replay ability. Their first watch will always be the most powerful (a topic of much interest in film to me, that initial experience. I hope to discuss this in a feature some time). This found a way to satisfy my need (for now) with a good story; it affected for the sake of sharing.
The crew made sure to take full strides in implementing innovative, sometimes odd strategies to make this big movie move like a small one, different from other character studies like those found in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Lawrence of Arabia. The budget afforded them many gorgeous shots of boats at the docks, the ocean at sunrise, bustling city lights, and much variety of personable communities. I enjoyed their choice to keep most of it like an independent shoot, using the proximate approach, not going for the far out approach of keeping the camera at a distance.
Tight bokeh filled exposures follow the characters. Shots are wide but inward, not using telephotos or other optical compressor techniques to fake layering or warmth. This gives the backgrounds a homely closeness, intensifying circumstance, balancing the stakes. Full faces and torsos fill the frame, and the film is mainly comprised of medium-close-ups and head shots. There are some obvious scenes with wholly used green screen and animation. Time will likely not date them well, but for now it works. Patience is key with those moments, as the narrative is worth it.
As for gripes, you will likely find much dilution of characterization with the English actors. Always remember, just as English films with Asian actors, the foreigners on screen are usually urged to slow down for natives to better understand. I found their performances very distracting, but there is little to do when East and West come together. At least it is being done. Thank you.
What I also like is the choice to break 180 lines often, keeping us subtly on-the-edge, doubting initial interpretations of author\’s intentions. The third or so scene in the movie, when Bo looks into his reflection to ask himself who he is, the line flip flops, giving us so much confusion at first. In the end we can piece it together, and I enjoy working toward small details such as these, the ones that show themselves to be important but hidden.
I recommend watching this film with a close one. It makes for a very authentic realization of elements lacking in much cinema today, to go out and enjoy a tried and true story arc told well. Too much of now we\’re force fed plot in exposition, the choice of telling before showing. This film leads your interests for characters with images rather than much conversation (the English actors were a weak point for me). Do that more Hollywood. Rely on your imaginary intuition. Then there won\’t be as much intimidation to talk on film art, and ticket sales would increase, at least from me.