Isabella (2006) Poster

(2006)

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This winner of the 2006 Silver Berlin Bear for Best Film Music has considerably more to offer
harry_tk_yung11 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
First of all, the music IS good, maybe too good, as it sometimes dominates the scenes. Right from the beginning with the enchanting acoustic guitar leading into melancholic strings and lyrical piano, the music is determined to be heard. Director Pang Ho-Chueng did make a point, in a radio interview, that he and Peter Kam intended to have the music play an important part in telling the story. For a movie such as "Isabella", where the mood and the characters are key, this approach works.

Many people, mistakenly, compare Isabella to Wong Kar-wai's work. The opening twenty minutes indeed employ some montages and temporal displacement/recreation technique but even those are not Wong's particular hallmark. All that amounts to is a few sleigh-of-hand tricks played on the audience, creating a false impression that the hooker that policeman Shing (Chapman To) picks up and spends a night with in his crummy apartment is Yan (Isabella Leung), a young girl found sitting slurping instant noodle in the sofa when he wakes up in the morning. What actually happened is that Yan had only just sneaked into the apartment, after rubbing shoulder with the hooker who was leaving and was mistaken by Shing to be the hooker whose face he obviously never bothered to take a good look at. This little piece of detail is very important as Yan later drops a bombshell that she is actually a daughter Shing never knew he had. She even plays with him for a little while in allowing him to believe that she was the hooker he had taken to bed last night.

After the somewhat playful opening, the movie becomes quite mainstream, although remaining stylistic. This story of Shing and Yan is essentially character-driven. The bare necessity of events needed is that as her mother died recently of cancer, she was kicked out of her apartment and lost her dog called Isabella. As Yan moves into Shing's apartment and he helps her to look for the dog, we see how the two interact, develop first a rapport, and then deeper feelings. Some critics make a lot out of the tantalising hint of a romantic relationship, but they have been mislead. Yan is yearning is for a father who has deserted her, not a lover. Director Pang has spared no pain in hammering that point home, again and again. But then, as playful a director as he is (you only have to watch his "You shoot, I shoot" to find out), he has more sleigh-of-hand tricks to play on the audience. It turns out that Shing had once before encountered Yan in a night spot and had suggested a one-night fling (which he obviously cannot remember). "You have eyes that look like my first love," he whispered. She intimated later that she almost ended up going home with him (but she didn't) as she was longing to see how her father's home was like. The whole thing is brought home in one touching scene when Yan, in tears, asks Shing not to abandoned her AGAIN.

These are two people who have stumbled across the joy and comfort of having family. A stranger to domestic bliss since adulthood, Shing's interest in his newly found daughter is in things like cooking a meal for her, and not sleeping with her. Yan, on the other hand, has just lost the comfort and security of a family, albeit a single-parent one. In addition, having a father is a totally new experience to her. This is the basis of their relationship. And yet, as Director Pang may have playfully and subtly suggested, may there not be a dubious hint of romantic feeling between the two, particularly towards the end of the movie? Had Shing not been Yan's father, could something develop despite the age discrepancy? Then, don't forget the twist at the end. Here lies the fascination of the movie.

Little wonder that Isabella Leung was the darling of the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. Ever beguiling, she can do the innocent lass and the mean girl with equal ease. Uninhibited by her youthfulness, she can let her hair down when required, as in the "drunk" scene. In the end, however, it's the lost little girl yearning for a home, as well as a well-balanced mix of innocence and maturity, that wins the hearts of the audience.

Anybody who has seen Chapman To play a teenager in "Initial D" must have been converted to believing that ANYTHING can happen in casting a movie here. In "Isabella", To finally lands a role that takes him out of the doldrums of the funny guy and gives him something to chew on. I can't honestly say that he shines. His expressions have a tendency to be wooden and there's a thin line between being that and being reflective. Still, it's a credible performance and a step in the right direction.

Anyone familiar with Hong Kong movies knows how movie makers here are fond of putting in a few cameo roles. In "Isabella", there are Josie Ho, Shawn Yue and the ever show-stealing Anthony Wong (who just won Best Supporting in the "HK Oscar" for his portrayal of a Japanese father in "Initial D"). Then there's Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung, top entertainment celebrity Eric Tsang's son, with a pretty good role as Yan's loyal, selfless young admirer.

I have talked about the music. Not to be forgotten however is the camera has captured the charm of Portuguese ruled Macau during the days just before its return to China in 1999. All told, I have to resort to an often used, but quite apt, simple and short description to summarise "Isabella" – a gem.
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8/10
Endearing
christian9417 July 2007
This movie gets it right. From a simple and "seen-it-before" premise-- a man reunites with his daughter he never knew he had--comes a tale of human frailties, failures, fears, familial fraternity and future-looking forgiveness. The themes and concept may be old news, but the look, feel and refined storytelling of this one is as refreshing as a cold beer in summer. It is quirky & funny with fine nuanced performances by both leads. Isabella Leong got a few acting nods for her role and she really carries the piece well trying to gain her father's favour and exploring a relationship she never had.

Music-wise this film is also covered with a prominence of powerful pieces that not only set the mood, but sometimes tell the story themselves. Peter Kam also get recognized for his work, but arguably its Ho-Cheung Pang's choices as well as calculated visual and sound editing that makes it all work.

Ho-Cheung Pang really gets the best of everyone with this. Earthy real sets & decors from the arts department, lighting & impressive camera-work, etc. From the potent acting to the steady interior shots or the moving exterior close-ups, everything fits into the beautiful puzzle. The cinematography is innovative, alluring, but properly restrained and like the music also tells the story in its own way. A little hint of Kar Wai Wong here with occasional focus on feet or parts of the body, but always very well done and adding to realness and proposed point-of-view.

The movie leaves the audience in a happy contemplative mood. Having enjoyed the slice of life, embarked with the characters and feeling all the better for it.

This is a great picture that will have me seeking Ho-Cheung Pang's past & future projects. A voice I definitely want to hear more from in Hong Kong cinema...
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10/10
The Perpetuation of Love
two-rivers5 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The final one of the sixteen pictures that I saw in this year's Berlin Film Festival strangely enough was the one I liked most. Which does not necessarily mean that it was also the best or the most widely acclaimed. But it was the one that took the most direct way right into my heart.

In the end it has gained only one of the major awards: best soundtrack. And deservedly it was, an amazing combination of sound and picture, and when in the end the immortal Amalia Rodríguez adds to it, singing her famous "O gente de minha terra", that really put the dots on the i's.

Why is there a Portuguese song in a Chinese film? Well, in fact, it is not purely Chinese, it is from Hongkong with the action taking place in Macao, in the year of the return, 1999. Therefore, the Portuguese are in it, and there is also a corruption plot that deals with them, and in which the male protagonist, police inspector Shing, is involved.

But this is very much on the outside of what the film really wants to tell. Its title is "Isabella", but that does not give us a clear hint either about its message. In a way this is even pretty misleading. It seems to refer to the name of a disappeared dog, but then again this dog does not play a big part in the development of the plot. Then surprisingly, when you happen to have a look at the casting list, you find out that the main actress is called "Isabella Leung". Now that must be a complete novelty in the history of cinema, just imagine that "Citizen Kane" would be renamed into a simple "Orson". Strange stuff.

Really this is a well developed love story that goes straight to the heart. Inspector Shing, a bachelor who must be in his mid thirties, wants to forget his problems in the arms of a young girl of about 17. He is given a snub, but nevertheless the girl sticks to him, just to surprise him by announcing that he actually is her father! Yan's mother has died of lung cancer (the movie is also a plea for a sane life without smoking!), and the girl is now moneyless and has therefore got kicked out of her flat. Shing begins to remember his past: when he was 17, he had left his pregnant girlfriend. He regrets what he has done and wants to change his life. But first he has to go into prison, because of the corruption affair.

As is also revealed, Yan's mother has had an abortion, and Yan's father actually is somebody else: a man from the neighborhood, without strong affective attachment to the mother. But what counts is love, and the mother has never stopped loving Shing, and Yan has taken account of that.

The film is mainly about the coming closer together of Shing and Yan, first due to Yan's taking the initiative, then also because Shing finds relief in this beginning relationship, which could be called platonic love. Or something more than platonic, but this is not quite evident at the end. Yan promises to wait until Shing will have completed his two-year prison sentence, and that's how the movie finishes. It seems as if the love of the mother has been perpetuated in the daughter.

This at last is a lovely story in the midst of all this misery. It brings on a flash of hope which lets you leave the cinema with your head high. Many people have compared Pang Ho-Cheung stylistically to Wong Kar-Wai, but while his fellow director incessantly and yearningly speaks of lost or inaccessible love, Pang tells us a much simpler story projecting a world in which the most daring dreams are likely to be fulfilled.
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9/10
HK Neo Reviews: Isabella
webmaster-301717 March 2011
Simply beautiful...

Edmond Pang is not the next anything, but rather a bright new hope of the next decade for HK cinema. After 4 out of 4 good witty films, Pang dilutes his wittiness for art, yet still capturing the mood of his style. Pang is an expert storyteller and his ingeniousness use of voice over apes Wong Kar Wai, but also keeping a constant mood within the characters while capturing the romantic affairs of Macau. Like Wong, the movie emphasis on time, love and the film music score, but Pang is by far different and far more playful and witty. The film success isn't exactly due to the storyline, but rather the beautiful performance of Isabella and a career breakthrough role for the unfairly underrated cameo specialist – Chapman To which both combines well with Pang's romantic vision through the lens into the city of Macau.

Pang is clearly an ingenious director, who realizes that calling Isabella the same name would be a cliché, but rather changes the title role to a dog. This in turn gives a further depth to a beautiful piece of painting. Perhaps the most important aspect of Pang's image is the music score itself. It defines the film, the actors, the director and ultimately the audience. The score is heartfelt and beautiful to endure and perhaps the best fitting film score since 2046. The sense of loneliness, enduring, cheerful, carefree is all combined with the ultimately mood of a romantic.

After a career suicide in Bug Me Not, a movie for mentally disabled people, Isabella proves the economic theory about for "every low, there will always be a high" correct. Isabella's performance echoes Karena Lam in her award winning debut as a natural high school-er in July Rhapsody. Isabella is clearly natural and for the first time, Neo actually reckons she is pretty. Her looks are menacing to resist and her youthfulness is played with a matured and controlled temperament as she pulls off a nomination worthy performance. As for Chapman To, an actor who Neo have found funny and likable in the past proves his potential of being a serious dramatic actor. Chapman is a likable comic genius and is clearly underrated by various critics/audience who labeled him as "annoying", "filling up space", "a waste of time", despite pulling off memorable performances in Moonlight in Tokyo, Infernal Affairs, Colour of Truth and Initial D. Chapman depicts a corrupt cop who slowly resist and accepts the knowledge of a daughter is one of maturity and sympathetic performance.

Isabella is a beautiful movie to endure and while it isn't Pang most accessible film, it nonetheless fills the most vital ingredients of an art movie – the feel and the mood. Pang tackles upon issues of controversy in a light hearted and playful manner while being serious at the same time. The city of Macau isn't really that romantic, as it is in fact filled with gamblers, prostitutes, triads and corruption. This is another reason why Edmond Pang hits his marks so cleanly and artfully, despite the fact that most scenes are so clearly staged – think Isabella lying on the bed posing – doesn't that rings 2046's Maggie Cheung? Pang also plays with the idea of a probable incest and here he ingeniously filmed the scene with a tone of juxtaposing comic and seriousness – think about it – you just have sex with a random girl you met at a bar and the next thing you realize – she is actually your daughter? Isabella isn't a film of plot and twists as Pang's previous ones, but like Wong Kar Wai, it is all about the mood and the feel that it ultimately conveys. It isn't the most flawless movie, but yet at the same time the flaws are not obvious and frequently hided behind the magnificent mood created by the powerful music score. Overall, Isabella is what I embrace as a beautiful little movie that gives the "feel"… (Neo 2006)

I rate it 9/10

  • www.thehkneo.com
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8/10
i liked it
schwabbeldiwauwau19 May 2013
About two weeks have passed since I watched this movie, so I don't remember every detail of it perfectly anymore. But what I do remember is that I did enjoy watching it.

Luckily, I didn't read the plot synopsis on IMDb before watching it, because it sure looks boring and overcooked: Careless bachelor is tracked down by the daughter he never knew he had; they slowly start bonding while facing all kinds of obstacles... yaaaawn!

But quite on the contrary, this movie struck me as a fresh and playful drama with lots of funny moments (that for the most part didn't derive from the "oh-so-funny" plot-element of father and daughter trying to work it out despite not knowing anything about each other, which in turn results in awkward situations etc.). The cast was very good. I especially liked the stoic male main character and one of the supporting characters who was eating stuff in every scene he was in. There are also quite a few little plot twists that are believable and serve the story line well.

Overall, it's a very likable movie with the message that it's never too late to change your path in life, even though it may seem painful. Interestingly enough, that message is not only delivered through the father-daughter-main-plot, but also through sub-plots. And it's delivered in a non-hysterical, non-preachy way, which is a big plus in my book!

Isabella is definitely not a masterpiece, but it's the kind of movie I would like to see more; especially in times when the money that is being spent on any given super-hero movie would be enough to make literally a hundred movies that are relevant to people's lives, actually make a point and give just a little food for thought (not demonizing blockbusters here; just saying the balance is off).
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7/10
Weird
kosmasp22 April 2007
That is one really creepy movie. But in a good way, if you can say that. This movie is about a police officer that has an unwanted/uninvited guest at his house ... who that is? Someone who wants to live there with him, but that's all I'm going to say, you have to watch the rest for yourself.

The actors are really great in it (some might know Chapman To only from Infernal Affairs, but he made other great movies too) and the storytelling is excellent. You get the mood of the characters mostly through their actions not through their words, which I really liked! Also kudos to the camera man, for his excellent work.

If you like an off-beat drama mixed with little comedy, than this is for you.
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6/10
Kinda disappointed
blindg4 July 2006
I simply loved every Pang movies, probably my favourite is "Beyond Our Ken" and starting from this I'll try to explain the main defects I found in his new movie. BOK was a movie of great feeling tension and that was his strong point together with Pang's creative direction and a solid and particularly intriguing script: Isabella is the perfect opposite of this. Somewhat predictable script, so-so acting (can't get people who praised Chapman To, probably one of the most overrated HK actors in the last years and Isabella Leung was nothing special), it misses completely to deliver the mood even if the premises were really high due to the dramatic story. He tried to emulate Wong Kar Wai describing characters with simple touches but fails completely in delivering solid personality unlike WKW. One of the few good point is the camera work, sometimes genius as we have already experienced. Hope it will be back to the right path, if this is one of the so-called "maturity" movies, I want only immature, but damn real movies.
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