AUTUMN MOON (Clara Law, 1992)

Written by husband Eddie Ling-Ching Fong, Clara Law’s Qiu yue is a bittersweet comedy about identity, both national and individual, that the experiences of migration, anticipated migration, and being left behind, either transitionally or permanently, wobble, consigning identities to a state of perpetual dislocation and formation. Pui Wai is a 15-year-old girl in Hong Kong whose parents are currently in Canada arranging their immigration. In the meantime, Pui Wai lives with her 80-year-old grandmother, who embodies traditions, such as Chinese cuisine, which make her (along with her age) unsuitable for transplantation to the New World. Her granddaughter, bless her, identifies the local McDonald’s with tradition, preferring even its “cuisine,” for the continuity it has afforded her in her social life. The art of cooking is meaningless to her, while a shot of the inside of Grandmother’s refrigerator, full of fresh and preserved ingredients, represents a part of Granddaughter’s background from which the latter is divorced. “Eat, eat,” Grandmother urges Pui Wai at mealtime, but Pui Wai resists, refuses, her alienation coinciding with her normal adolescent rebelliousness. At one point, Grandmother beseeches Granddaughter not to be as diet-prone as the girl’s mother. In a deeply moving monologue, Grandmother reveals her awareness that her family has no intention of including her in their grand move.
     In his mid-twenties, Tokio has arrived from Japan to spend three weeks in Hong Kong; he hooks up with a prostitute, also Japanese, whom he has known since childhood, but he also has come in search of good food. He and Pui Wai are each introduced with their interior self-talk as voiceover, stressing their loneliness, if you will, their transitional status. They become platonic friends, although Tokio does steal a kiss that sets the innocent girl’s heartbeat to intensify uncomfortably. Tokio assures her that experience will cause this reaction to fade: an unintended confession of his own meaningless existence. For a while, each ironically helps to anchor the other in their mutual unfamiliarity. (They converse in English. “I wish you spoke Cantonese!” a frustrated Pui Wai cries out to Tokio at one point.) The film ends with the pair sitting outside at night, the camera fixed on their faces as they take in celebratory fireworks. Tokio’s eyes follow each descending flare, while Pui Wai’s eyes dip down just once, brief melancholy replacing her earnest display of cheerfulness. She looks up at the sky then and becomes fixed in her smile. Devastating.
     Law draws upon dreams as well as naturalism, overexposed black and white as well as color; there are shots where a single patch of color—the blue shade covering a light bulb; a scarlet bedspread—offsets a color-neutral image. Outdoors, in daylight, high-rise buildings encapsulate a fierce, featureless modernity. A witty gloss on such imagery transforms the stacked windows into a wall of mail compartments—communication as numb, featureless artifice. Law borrows from Yasujiro Ozu’s cinema shots of Tokio and Pui Wai sitting outside side-by-side, the camera at their backs. (In one absolutely Ozuvian shot, the two are standing in water, fishing!) But these two are a couple only in the loosest sense. They are “together” only for a short time; what they briefly share will shore up neither of them.
     Born in Macao, Law moved with her family to Hong Kong at age ten and moved to Australia, where she now resides, a few years prior to the handover of Hong Kong to China. While Qiu yue is an uneven, somewhat fragile film, its irresolution reflects Law’s own experience at searching for a place to call home.

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