By Janine Gericke.
I was surprised to learn that A Complicated Story was made as a student film by first-time filmmaker Kiwi Chow, with executive production through the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ film production program and the legends Johnnie To and Bill Kong. Not a bad way to kick off a career in filmmaking.
This beautifully shot and intricate film is told in three chapters, following a young student who is in dire need of money in order to help her ailing brother. Book One introduces Liu Yazi (Zhu Zhiying), a young student who is offered the opportunity to be a surrogate mother for a movie star, Tracy T. (Cherrie Ying) and her mogul husband, Yuk Cheung (Jacky Cheung). She develops a close relationship with the couple’s lawyer Kammy (Stephanie Che). They offer her enough money to help her brother and she is set up in a gorgeous house, with live-in help. It all seems too good to be true, so it’s no surprise when Yazi accepts the offer—what has she got to lose? She spends her days shopping for maternity clothes and her evenings having dinners with Kammy. It’s beautiful to see her pregnancy progress and see how happy she becomes. Things begin to crumble though, when Tracy decides to back out of the contract and Yazi decides to flee.
The story unfolds slowly, but organically. And with each chapter of the film, we learn more about all of the characters. Book Two follows the mogul Yuk Cheung and Book Three follows the lawyer Kammy. The chapters serve as a great device to flesh out each of the characters and transform a two-dimensional drama into a nuanced human story. In Book Two, Yazi and Yuk develop an intimate relationship. At first, it would seem that the mogul would demand custody, but he does not. Although having the surrogate mother and biological father form a relationship seems rather predictable, it feels right because they do form an emotional connection. For a moment, the film seems to set up for a happy Hollywood ending—all tied up with a nice bow—but true to its title, the story is anything but predictable.
I didn’t learn that this was a student film until after I watched it, and I have to say that I am really impressed. Although the story does stray a bit here and there, it’s filled with such style and emotional substance that it carries the viewer along. The imagery of A Complicated Story helps to set the mood of the film. Chow sets the tone well using ethereal shots of landscapes, blue skies with fast moving clouds, and lush greenery with the sounds of crickets to impart a calming effect, then changes tone by switching to long slow pans and fuzzy out of focus shots that are disconcerting and seem to imply the uncertainty of the film’s characters. To appreciate this film, one has to come to terms with the fact that it is indeed a melodrama—the premise alone sounds like a Lifetime movie. That being said, I liked this film for what it is and believe it is worth a visit. If nothing else, A Complicated Story proves itself a phenomenal first outing for a young filmmaker.
Janine Gericke is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.