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Original Title:
Joi sun ho

Hong Kong 2009

Drama, Fantasy

Wai Ka-Fai

Lau Ching-Wan
Mia Yam
Kelly Lin
Chung Ying-kit
Kuk Jo
Pow Chung-man
Yeung Shuk-man
Zeng Yaqi
Wong Man-Wai

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Written By

Story: Melody (Mia Yam) is blind since her childhood days. Because of a car accident she didn't only lose her eyesight but also her father Tony (Lau Ching-Wan. Her mother Mandy (Kelly Lin) and her younger brother Oscar (Chung Ying-Kit) also survived the car crash, but even ten years after this tragic day Mandy is still mourning. In order to soothe some of her mother's pain she decides to write a novel in which not her father died in that car accident but everyone else. Only Tony survives even though he loses his eyesight. He only has his filipino maid Maria (Yeung Shuk-Man) helping him out with whom he visits his family's grave every day. To overcome his grief Tony writes a novel in which his family hasn't died in the car accident.
The characters of the different novels eventually seem to come to life for the writers and overstep the border between reality and fiction. Can Melody finally reunite with her family?

Review: Wow, Wai Ka-Fai's "Written By" brings meta levels to a whole new level. Together with co-scriptwriter Au Kin-Yee (the two had already written "Mad Detective" together) he wrote about someone who writes a novel about someone who writes a novel about someone. Got it? If you can't keep up with the story in "Written By" at some point that's no need to worry, because the moment everything becomes unclear is also the moment when it's not necessary anymore to keep track of events as the different narration and time levels are brought together making for one single mix-up that stands as the film's story. Why the movie works out so well, nonetheless, is the fact that you really don't need to follow the movie's plot with your brain anymore. Up until that point Wai Ka-Fai has already won over the viewer's heart with his genuine ideas and well-placed exaggerated but never intrusive emotional moments.

However, it has to be pointed out, that not everybody will find this film entertaining. Those who aren't willing to dive into a fictional world in which realism is completely non-apparent won't be moved by the film and find it hard to get anything out of it. But most will find it easy to get carried away by the premise, because as the writer of a story you eventually become the creator of a whole world. Nothing else is what Melody is doing. She creates a world in which her father is still alive and the parallels she creates between herself and her father make her feel close to him. Thus, the blind tries to overcome her loss through her imagination, by escaping into another world. No one will feel offended by that and since everything is possible in a story no one should wonder that we also come across motives like ghosts, reincarnation and several small wonders we get to watch in awe.

It's surprising that you can actually follow the film's plot outline until the first half despite the encapsulated narration. That is because the story about the story of a story... etc. is actually told in a flashback to make things even more complicated! Naturally, somewhen throughout the movie this complex house of cards has to fall apart, but that's by no means frustrating as it is story-relevant that this house collapses and Wai Kai-Fai causes this collapse deliberately, too. The most moving scenes are those in which different story levels are pushed over one another and characters are at places at which they shouldn't be able to be. Sometimes the same individual is even existing at one and the same place more than just once! Adding a good portion of drama, as it is the case here in shape of the loss of a beloved relative and the wish for a reunion, it's not really surprising that "Written By" can be exceptionally touching thanks to its plot construction.

Wai Ka-Fai has already a lot of experience, of course, especially his romantic comedies that he made together with Johnnie To like "Needing You" come to mind, and he proves that he still can imbue his films with the same warmth as back then. "Written By" is a bitter-sweet fantasy drama that sometimes is also not at a loss for a wink, at other points Wai conveys his message in a very mature way and with a surprisingly deep impact. Even topics like reincarnation, resp. buddhism are touched.
Of course, Lau Ching-Wan also does his share for the film to work out so well. Mia Yam might be outshined by him but she can still deliver a decent performance. Only Chung Ying-kit as Oscar feels incredibly out of place and ridiculous. Is he supposed to depict a mentally retarded boy? The same goes for Maria who gives a terribly ludicrous portrayal. The scenes with them can't be meant serious, instead should be counted to the category comedy.

As there are a lot of fantasy elements there are also numerous special effects, of course. Most of them really don't need to hide from American productions! They give the film that certain fantasy element. Also, the color filters in the underworld as well as the rooms of the apartment relocated outside to a green field are mesmerizing and take you to another world. The great soundtrack by Xavier Jamaux also adds to this. In the end, the many fantasy-loaden elements are the reason why the overly poignantly drawn emotions are so well received by the viewer and can really be captivating. At first "Written By" might seem a bit odd, but even if the movie never loses some of this oddness it can win over the viewer in an instant and even move him to tears since the emotions are really heartfelt. The only thing is that Wai Kai-Fai could have dialed it down a notch every now and then as he tells his fantasy drama with an almost breakneck pacing. At the bottom line there remains a wonderfully warm and sad movie that stands as an insiders' tip among the Hong Kong Films 2009 this far!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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