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Original Title:
Chong lai

China, France, Hungary 2009


Chao Wang

Li Naiwen
Yan Bingyan
Wang Jianing
Jiao Gang
Wang Juan

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Memory of Love

Story: The physician Li Xun (Li Naiwen) has been married to He Sizhu (Yan Bingyan) for a few years already. When they are on a party of Li's friend and working colleague Qian Cheng (Wang Jianing), who reveals that he is soon about to marry his girlfriend, Li gets drunk and is driven home by his wife who herself is going somewhere else after that. The next morning Li is informed at the hospital that his wife has been involved in a car accident together with another man, the dancing instructor Chen Mo (Jiao Gang). Although Li's marriage hasn't been going quite perfect for a few years he is shocked by the infidelity of his wife. Furthermore, Sizhu is now suffering from amnesia and has forgetten the last three years. She is newly in love with Li but he and his friend Qian are quite aware that they slowly have to introduce Sizhu to the events of the last few years in order for her to regain her memory. Part of that is also to confront her with the dancing instructor even if this means that Sizhu once again might choose him over Li, who is still in love with his wife and would have to say goodbye then.

Review: "Memory of Love" is without a doubt art house cinema and sadly it's the kind of art house cinema that makes critics blindly admire it since they seemingly aren't capable of differentiating between a true masterpiece of the genre and those kind of movies that simply aim at looking like art. But maybe I just lack the insight into the matter. Having seen numerous movies and written almost as many reviews might not be enough. Who knows, maybe the day will come at which I, too, will grant art being art just like that and give works with a certain exterior a thumbs up without any thinking. But this day hasn't come yet. Which means that I still hang on to my statement that some critics apparently write positve reviews about movies like "Memory of Love" because they fear that they might be considered blockheads of their profession if they wouldn't. Is it possible that some critics lack the courage to tell their own opinion? Anyway, all of this isn't to say that "Memory of Love" is a completely bad movie.

The biggest problem of the drama, which I want to point out right from the start, is the detachedness of emotions and story. The emotions that are there are presented with an incredible coldness and distance that make it impossible to be interested in the characters. Nowadays I have become a little bit allergic to this kind of stuff. The same goes for manipulative kitsch. It's no groundbreaking wisdom anymore that the truth lies somewhere in between! Anyway, the characters here act completely detached from their feelings. This makes "Memory of Love" very exhausting, especially since the movie can't provide any entertainment through a fast pacing or a fantastic development of the story either. The story itself isn't that bad, however, it's just that you get the feeling to have already seen this subject in on or two other art house movies. It's about love, the loss of it, memory and what it means to make decisions.

There is one interesting discovery you can make in the film nonetheless, although it's pretty much at the beginning already. And that is that Sizhu has been the girlfriend of Qian at first until she started meeting Li behind his back and left him eventually. Despite that Li and Qian are still best buddies! Something like that is only seldomly resolved this way... Apart from this incredibility it then really shouldn't wonder Li that Sizhu is reverting to old habits and is meeting with another man behind his back. This brings us to another point to criticize as the Latin-dancer Sizhu is secretly seeing is nothing more but a clichéloaden, shallow character which doesn't make the whole pivot of the movie work out at all. Was Sizhu simply unhappy with Li and wasn't it really important to her with whom she actually started an affair? But where does this unhappiness come from? Because Li is such an emotionally cold individual? But this character trait applies to anyone in the movie! Maybe apart from Qian Cheng, buddy-like played by Wang Jianing.

Also surprising is the steadiness with which Li leads his wife through her past. By doing so he discovers, at least that's what he tells us in a voice over, that he loves his wife at least as much as before. However, his amorous play is astonishingly emotionless and also in other respects he always seems to be somewhere else with his mind. Not only does he make the same wedding picture again, Li even goes to such lengths telling his wife about the dancing instructor and confronting her with him. You could expect Li getting some doubts whether this really is the right thing to do if he doesn't want to lose his wife but that's not the case here. It almost seems as if he has already lost her. Does he only cling to the last ray of hope that this time she may chose him after all, and why is it that he leaves everything else behind and hopes to make it through this crisis together with his wife?

The lack of emotions hinders the story from working out as well as it might sound on paper alone. A lot more interesting is Qian Cheng's party and his wedding, though, which is dealt with in a few short scenes. His wife seems to be a real material girl and most likely doesn't really love him. Is this the most honest way of marriage that Qian can imagine after the disappointment of his relationship with Sizhu? There are a few worthwhile questions that you can ask during the course of the movie, but the lack of emotional involvedness, which is also created by the HD-crisp pictures dominated by a cold blue, makes the film pass by without any meaning. With its mere running time of 92 minutes this Chinese-french-hungary co-production forunately isn't unnecessarily long, yet there are still some lengths. Since the drama also lacks some real good ideas and we have seen all of it this way or another in similar works already it can only be judged how emotionally moving "Memory of Love" is. And the cold answer to that is: Almost not at all!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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