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Screening Room : Movies

Back to Days of 'Black and White'

November 19, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The UCLA Film Archive's "Days of Being Doyle," a splendid retrospective of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, continues tonight with Stanley Kwan's 1994 "Red Rose, White Rose," a tale of thwarted desire set in pre-1949 Shanghai. It will be followed by the 1986 French production "Black and White." The films start at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater.

"Black and White" director Claire Devers has superbly adapted from the seemingly un-filmable Tennessee Williams' short story "Death and the Black Masseur." Yet, as subtle and perceptive as the film is, it also is inescapably morbid. A white, mild-mannered accountant (Francis Frappat) undergoes a profound erotic experience while being massaged by a black man (Jacques Martial). That unleashes a relentless sadomasochistic relationship, commencing with the masseur's breaking his client's arm--and that's just their first session! What emerges is the notion that self-knowledge can ignite a desire for total annihilation.

Hong Kong-based, Australian-born Doyle shot the film in expressive high contrast black-and-white, and Devers has brought to the story a Bressonian reticence. The result is a film as easy as it is to admire as it is hard to take.

"Days of Being Doyle" continues Sunday at 7 p.m. with Chen Kaige's exquisite yet harrowing 1996 "Temptress Moon," a heady tale of love and revenge.

Thirteen-year-old orphan Zhongliang (Leslie Cheung) arrives at the Pang estate in the countryside outside Shanghai at the invitation of his sister, the wife of young master Pang. But when he finds he's to be the decadent couple's virtual slave, he flees back to Shanghai.

When we meet him again, the '20s are roaring through glamorous, corrupt Shanghai, and he has become the most debonair of gigolos. "Temptress Moon" really gets underway when his boss orders Zhongliang to lure the master Pang's younger sister Ruyi (Gong Li), to Shanghai as part of a plan to grab what's left of the Pang fortune.

What's crucial here is that director Chen, who previously teamed Cheung and Gong in his epic "Farewell My Concubine," transforms the emotional melodrama into an eloquent romantic tragedy in which we can perceive an entire society undergoing wrenching change. Gong deftly creates Ruyi as a stunning enigma, while the protean Cheung once again summons that full range of emotions that also charged "Concubine."

With "Fallen Angels," which follows "Temptress Moon" (and replaces the originally scheduled "Red Lotus Society"), Wong Kar-Wai returns to the razzle-dazzle style of "Chungking Express," the film that made him internationally famous. Once again Wong and Doyle take us into Hong Kong at night, a neon-streaked city that is a veritable maze of dark alleys, tiny apartments and and clubs.

"Fallen Angels" is an exhilarating rush of a movie, with all manner of go-for-broke visual bravura expressing perfectly the free spirits of its bold young characters.

For some time, the Agent (Michele Reis) has had an ideal partnership with Ming (Leon Lai): She lines up hit jobs and Ming carries them out. Although they have little contact--and perhaps for that very reason--the Agent falls in love with Ming, just as he's decided he's dug out one too many bullets from his body.

In the meantime, we meet Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro, who brings to mind the young Toshiro Mifune in looks and acting range), a mute but handsome ex-con. Zhiwu lives with his widower father (Chen Wanlei), a chef, with whom he has a loving bond, but makes a living of sorts breaking into closed shops and selling to customers after hours.

Wong builds "Fallen Angels" to a graceful, beautifully orchestrated finale that at last melds his two stories romantically into one, as characters collide with fate. "Fallen Angels" grew out of "Chungking Express" only to surpass it in complexity of style, perception and emotional impact. "Days of Being Doyle" concludes Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. with "Out of the Blue," Jan Lamb's 1995 homage to Wong Kar-Wai, plus Park Ki-Yong's "Motel Cactus" (1997), in which four couples use the same motel room for trysts four different times of the year.

*

Saturday at 7 p.m., the UCLA Film Archive will screen, as part of its "1968: Cinema in Revolution" series, Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's monumental, consciousness-raising masterwork, "The Hour of the Furnaces." The four-hour survey of Argentina's turbulent history defines the full meaning of the term "cultural imperialism." (310) 206-FILM.

Quentin Lee's venturesome "Flow: Queer Stories From the Edge," which opens a Friday midnight run at the Sunset 5, is composed of five shorts Lee made as a UCLA film student. (Earlier this year his and fellow UCLA alum Justin Lin's droll "Shopping for Fangs" became the first independently made Asian American Gen-X movie to get a local theatrical release.)

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