Fleeing by Night (2000)

Rene Liu, Lei Huang, Chao-te Yin, Leon Dai,
Set in China in the 1930s, the film is about the unsettling relationship between three characters. Ing'er, the daughter of a theatre-owner, welcomes the return of Shao-dung, her fiancee and a fine cellist from America. Shao-dung s...
  • 7.5 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Hui-Ling Wang, Ming-Hsia Wang, Writer:
  • Li-Kong Hsu, Chi Yin, Director:
  • Shi-Hao Chang, Producer:

All subtitles:

10 / 10

provocative, confusing, overly ambitious, and mesmerizing

"Fleeing by Night" is far from a perfect film, but it is the most enthralling thing I have seen on the big screen in months. It's a movie that I have been thinking about and re-thinking about since I left the cinema, and isn't that what a good film does to its viewer?

The backdrop of the film is pre-war, pre-Japanese-invasion China, a young woman, Ing'er, is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who, among other enterprises, runs an opera house. She is captivated by and admires from a distance the talent and beauty of the star of the troupe, Lin Chung. We learn that Lin Chung has a rare, special talent for Chinese opera that makes him an instant success on stage. We also learn very early on that he is a tortured soul having been orphaned as a baby and raised by his "master", the leader of the opera troupe. So, despite his countless admirers, his life is one without identity, working essentially as a slave in a circus act. His relationship with his troupe leader most closely resembles that of a prostitute-pimp relationship.

Things get interesting when Shaodung returns home from America, a young cellist who has been promised Ing'er as a wife. At first, bored and uninterested in the opera, he has one of those life-transforming moments when he hears (and sees) Lin Chung on the stage. The two young men finally meet, and despite some awkward early moments, the chemistry between them is undeniable and unavoidable.

Unlike most movies, this film climaxes about 2/3 into it in a scene in a car when the two men's affections for one another are tested. Due to fear, jealousy, shame, and hurt feelings, their window of opportunity is tragically missed. From there the film takes one tragic turn after another over-ambitiously trying to incorporate just about every tragedy imaginable: rape, murder, family scandal, foreign invasion, war, disease, prison, ... you name it. Although the film suffers for this, surprisingly when it all comes to an end, it doesn't feel as contrived as it could have had it been in less competent hands.

The film certainly has some flaws: First, it isn't until the Japanese invasion that you have a clear sense for what era the film is supposed to be taking place. It is somewhat obvious that it is set somewhere in the past, but there was a failure to truly capture that in the scenery, the characters, and costume design (unlike Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood for Love", for example). Second, despite the stereotypically tragic nature of the tale, the treatment of homosexuality was generally sympathetic. That is, with the exception of one horrible scene which was totally unnecessary and will make every gay and lesbian person cringe and sigh, "Oh, no, not again." And lastly, the narrative sequence at the end that carries us through the entire lives of the characters was somewhat awkward, though again, it was handled about as well as one could handle this technique.

In sum, "Fleeing by Night" is definitely a film to be seen by all; it's another brilliant example of Chinese cinema that is increasingly cornering the market on good sentimental tragedy-romances. Though not perfect, it's an amazing achievement and without doubt one of 2000's best movies.

8 / 10

How to Say "Four Hankie Special" in Chinese

Apart from the 1948 Chrysler featured in many scenes that were ostensibly meant to depict China in about 1939, this is not a film to be challenged as to its settings. Everything about it suggests authenticity, even to the point of wondering whether it was based on fact. Although the story itself has some structural flaws in coherence, it is a very well made movie indeed.

I was struck by the musical score especially; it is by far one of the most expert blendings of Eastern and Western tonality I have heard in cinema. While traditional Chinese opera remains a mystery to me, I can appreciate how it must be essential to any full understanding of the story line. (Though "stagey" is the adjective that comes to mind, in terms of both the film and the opera within the film.)

Indeed, there is more than a little soap opera here. I am thinking Stella Dallas as played by Anna Mae Wong, or Love is A Many Splendored Thing with two guys in the main roles. But I am being facetious. I really liked this movie for its heart, and recommend it highly.

I do wish I had more information on the actors and director, however. I have no way of knowing whether this came out of Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or somewhere else.

9 / 10

a masterpiece of forbidden love and unconditional friendship

It is a story about two men and a woman --- more likely two boys and a girl as they were innocent and confused in their own way.

There may be no more complicated things than three kinds of love twisted between three close friends constantly influenced by surroundings. There are other films about this triangle, but set in the unsettling historic period before the country's new foundation and mixed with the fascinating Chinese verbal culture of Kun drama, this film offers one of the deepest and most overwhelming cinematic experiences I've ever had. Lei Huang and Rene Liu, as usual, brought forward nostalgically exquisite acting and Chris Babida's music was just as graceful as his any other works. Chao-te Yin was a surprising found, handsome with both manly fortitude and feminine delicacy.

It's original, subtle and very literarily poetic. The dialogues are sometimes so neotericly literary that it almost reminds me of Lu Xun, Lao She and all those great writers once in the junior Chinese books. Thus, some pieces were very unnatural as being said by the characters, but I think there is no problem alike when you only get their meanings from the subtitles, but also that's when some of its unique charm lost. I guess that's a universal problem when it comes to foreign language films.

It may not be perfect due to some factitious parts here and there, which in no way harm the beauty and depth on the whole. Most importantly, it manages to tell us: love is multifarious, but the universal truth about it is it comes from the heart. Be it tortured by circumstances, it will always find a way to last.

Strongly recommend it to Chinese viewers who need a nostalgic introspection and foreign film lovers who want something totally different from other foreign language cinematic experiences (Chinese ones of exclusive lower-class depiction included).

9 / 10

A gentle movie full of the pain and joy of love

I saw this film recently on TV and even on a small screen found it a wonderful viewing experience.

The story moves along at a graceful pace allowing us to observe a 'classic' love triangle in the context of 1930s Chinese culture. Others have provided excellent plot overviews and I would encourage you to read them below.

This film reminded me of the 'love' issues raised from a different angle in the Korean movie 'Bungee Jumping of Their Own'. Both movies tackle challenging subjects in a sensitive manner and leave you thinking about the characters and the plot for months afterward.

I am keen to see 'Ye ben' on a big screen and encourage anyone who wants a truly moving experience to do likewise.

For me - 9/10

5 / 10

Historical drama combines tragedy and romance


Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Sound format: Dolby Digital

Tianjin, the late 1930's: A young cellist (Huang Lei) returns home from studies abroad and makes preparations to marry his childhood sweetheart (Rene Liu), the daughter of a wealthy businessman. But the relationship is soured when Huang meets and falls in love with a male Chinese opera singer (Yin Chao-te) who is being pimped by his mentor to a local gangster (Tai Li-jen). Tragedy ensues.

Several key personnel from CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON were reunited for this Chinese/Taiwanese co-production, including co-director Hsu Li-kong (longtime associate of director Tsai Ming-liang) and co-writer Wang Hui-ling. While it's a pleasant surprise to find a government-sanctioned Chinese film addressing a number of previously taboo subjects (corruption and hypocrisy in high places, gay romance, etc.), the results are decidedly mixed. Hsu's historical drama (co-directed with Yin Chi) relies for much of its dramatic impact on a measured accumulation of narrative details, mixed with all the expected trappings of traditional Chinese melodrama (villainous gangsters, thwarted love, enduring loyalty, lifelong tragedy, etc.). Too much time is spent on Huang's doomed relationship with Liu, and the subsequent romance between Huang and Lin is thwarted at every turn, frustrating audience expectations and leading some critics to question the film's sexual politics.

More a tragedy than a love story, the narrative builds to a genuinely heartbreaking conclusion: Few will be unmoved by a blunt, devastating sequence at the end of the movie in which Huang and Yin are 'reunited' after many years apart, all the more heartbreaking for the understated manner in which it is staged. Huang (LIFE ON A STRING, THE PHANTOM LOVER) makes an attractive and sympathetic protagonist, while Yin smoulders intensely in a difficult role, and Liu (who made an impressive debut five years earlier in the title role of SIAO YU) is quietly effective as the understanding wallflower laid low by her fiancée's deceit. Equally memorable is Tai, playing the nominal 'villain' as a sympathetic character hidebound by traditions and his place within Chinese society. Ultimately, some viewers will reject the film's deliberate pacing, while others will embrace its unassuming stateliness and grand romantic heart.

(Mandarin dialogue)