Saturday, February 27, 2010

Movie Review: Amphetamine 安非他命

When director Scud introduced his movie Amphetamine before its screening at the Berlinale film festival, he said, „maybe one day I’ll make happy movies, but for now I can’t.“ He was referring to the loss of friends to drugs in his recent past. As the title of the movie already suggests, that is precisely what Amphetamine is about. However, as Scud went on to explain, the Chinese characters making up the word 'amphetamine' literally mean 'is this not his fate?’, and thus the movie is also about fate and about love.
In short, Amphetamine is the doomed love affair between a Hong Kong finance manager Daniel (played by Thomas Price) and fitness trainer and martial arts aficionado Kafka (Byron Pang). The former is gay, and the later is straight. Kafka is desperate for love and, having just split from his girl friend, gives in to the overtures lavished upon him by Daniel. The two embark on a passionate love affair which is intimate but not sexual as Kafka cannot get himself to have sex with a man. Daniel, who is at ease with this part of their relationship, grows increasingly frustrated with Kafka’s worsening addiction to the drug amphetamine, whose destructive influence on Kafka interferes more and more with their relationship. Fuelled by the drug, the ghosts of Kafka's past come to haunt him, and he ends up craving for and at the same time rejecting the love offered to him by Daniel – in essence, reacting to love in the same way he reacts to the drug.
Amphetamine is a brilliant movie on many levels. It is beautifully shot and cleverly edited, mixing various levels - past, present, future as well as drug related visions – into a cohesive whole. Starting with the opening scene of a winged, angel-like Kafka hovering above the roofs of Honk Kong to the underwater scenes towards the end of the movie, it includes greatly imaginative, highly symbolic imagery which is a joy to watch. The actors are top-notch despite this being their first feature film (Thomas Price is a DJ and Byron Pang a model). The movie is highly erotic and features plenty of nudity of members of both sexes, which has led other reviewers to label the movie a soft porn (a fact which, I think, says more about the reviewer than about the movie).
Where I believe the movie fails is to tell the story convincingly. The negative turns of fate piled upon poor Kafka (a no-good drug dealing brother, poverty, the father’s early death, and the mother’s prolonged illness and eventual death; and even a gang rape, the trauma responsible for Kafka's unwillingness to have sex with Daniel) are over the top, creating more drama than need be. The dramatic ending is maybe unavoidable in the logic of this scenario, but ends up leaving a bitter after-taste – a feeling of 'too much’ (this is a very Western way of looking at it, obviously – quite possibly, a Chinese or Asian viewer may not be struck in a negative way by this kind of story telling). My other problem with the scenario is the premise - is a love affair like this (a passionate, non-sexual but intimate relationship between a gay man and a straight man) even likely to happen? Whether or not you are able to suspend your disbelief is crucial to whether you like or dislike the movie.
Personally, I like the movie a lot, and while it is not perfect, I wholly recommend it, for its technical and artistic brilliance, for the actors and for the raw emotions on display - even if I could have done with a little less drama.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

More information can be found at the movie's official site.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't quite get the ending. :-/ I'd be grateful if you could explain it to me.