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Original Title:
Dzi Oi

Hong Kong 2005


Joe Ma

Fiona Sit
Dylan Guo
Cheung Kwok Keung
Samuel Pang
Cheung Ching-yu

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Embrace your Shadow

Story: Young girl Ran (Fiona Sit) takes care of her brother Feng (Cheung Kwok Keung), who is almost entirely paralyzed. To make things even more complicated she also has to raise his 6-year old daughter Shiayou (Cheung Ching-yu) and sew clothes at home for a living. She doesn't have an easy in life and so she is always very depressive and has a sad expression on her face.
When one day thief Juchin (Dylan Guo) runs into little Shiayou, who got lost in the city, he brings her back home and gets to know the family. From that day on he visits them frequently and takes care of Feng and Shiayou. He eventually rents the room above Ran's flat to store some of his stuff there. Ran isn't heartless and so she soon develops feelings of gratefulness to Juchin, because some of the daily burdens she has to bear are finally taken from her. Between her and Juchin a relationship unfolds.
Juchin continues his daily robberies in order to finance Shiayou's future visit of an academy of music. However, he also gets into a fight with triad boss Fu (Samuel Pang), which goes hand in hand with a lot of problems for him...

Review: Director Joe Ma is mainly known for his average "Love Undercover" series, yet also made a name for himself with the romantic drama "Funeral March". With "Embrace your Shadow" he returns to the genre and sadly doesn't deliver a striking masterpiece, but only decent stuff. Oftentimes you can see that the film is heading into the right direction, but then again most of the scenes just don't have the effect on the viewer they should have had. It certainly isn't the actors' fault, but it's just the fact that we have already seen everything depicted in this movie the one way or the other. That's the more sad as Ma's work, despite its slow pacing, actually manages to win over the sympathy of the audience. Still, in the end it's not enough to save this film from its (good) mediocrity.

If there is a newcomer in Hong Kong that deserves to have good prospects for the future, then it is Canto-Popstar Fiona Sit. Despite her musical background she doesn't push her star status in questionable average blockbusters like a well-known female popstar-duo, but instead prefers to grow as an actor by taking on more difficult and profound roles. To get to the point, she has more integrity as an actor than both "Twins" (Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung) together. Once again, Sit can prove her skills in a drama like she already did in "2 Young".
Being a simple girl, who suddenly has to bear a lot of responsibility, she selflessly performs the obligations the situation demands of her. And yet she also shows something of her wistfulness with which she takes a look at her own life. At first she might seem a bit heartless, but when you have seen how she sacrifices herself for her brother and his daughter then she surely will have reserved herself a place in your heart.

Unfortunately, "Embrace your Shadow" oftentimes looks like being fabricated according to a well-known formula. Almost every one of the characters has been stricken with some sort of blow of fate or/and experiences one throughout the course of the film. The side story around paralyzed Feng, whose wife just left with all his money may be nice, but nonetheless is as cliché-loaden as the fact that Feng in his former life seemingly was a famous violin player and that he now wants to realize his dreams through his daughter. Nevertheless, his depressions outweigh any hope left, even if it really wouldn't have been wrong to emphasize this fact a bit more. Well, you are supposed to reserve some tears for some of the more moving scenes concerning him, anyway.
Taiwan's TV-Star Dylan Guo makes clear that there might be talent hidden within him, but his role just doesn't demand enough of him. At times he just seems to be too passive and his character too shallow. Sadly, he shares this fact with almost anyone in the film. Only Fiona Sit and little Cheung Ching-yu are excluded from it more often than they are not.

The story around triad boss Fu is very contrived and unsatisfying, because we never really get to know why Fu is so eager to make Juchin's life a living hell. Most likely because the filmmakers can put more emphasis on the life-threatening aspect of the film this way, all leading to a final fight that decides about life and death. Nothing new and especially those who are a little bit familiar with HK-flicks just will have to groan out loud because of the ending's predictability. Nevertheless, apart from its formulaic story "Embrace your Shadow" itself even seems somewhat "profound" at times. The way Ran and Juchin approach each other or some of the more special moments they share, like those in which Juchin shows his girlfriend how he "earns" his money, are actually quite enthralling.

Despite the slow pacing the movie can really raise interest in its characters, also because of its simplicity concerning the directing. It's just unfortunate that the initial love story around the two main protagonists takes a backseat somewhen throughout the movie. When they finally have become a couple the story's focus shifts on triad boss Fu, which eventually leads to the premise that the chemistry between the two main actors isn't working out anymore. So it doesn't come as a surprise that the following dramatic and emotional scenes can't really touch us. Here, there are definitely some missed opportunities.

Accompanied by heavy piano sounds we are lead from one tragic scene to the next, but nothing is really out of the ordinary. At the end, we might even have to consider ourselves lucky that Ran wasn't wheelchair-bound in the end, because that's exactly the kind of "twist" you have to expect from this movie.
"Embrace your Shadow" really isn't that bad, but when you've already seen a few good HK-dramas, then there is nothing new for you to discover in this one. The film surely has its moments and is crafted quite well, but it doesn't matter when there is no alternation, innovation or change to the formulaic plot. Without Fiona Sit the movie would even have gotten a weaker rating, maybe. If Sit continues to follow this path in her future, she really will have won me over as a new fan.
Bottom line: If it's a drama you are looking for, then "Embrace your Shadow" will do the job, even if it proves to be a surprisingly average film in the end.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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