A strange film, that is in equal doses wonderfully enjoyable, yet ultimately frustrating. Possibly it attempts to overreach in its aims, but there is much to be considered worthwhile.
[Please note that the IMDB link below is pretty ropey – it seems to have partially linked up a 2010 Japanese movie with the same name.]
“The Knot” is I suppose the story of Chen Qiushui (Chen Kun) a young medical student who we first meet in Taiwan being asked to act as an English Tutor to the young brother of the girl of whom he falls in love with Wang Biyun (Vivian Hsu). Sadly their budding relationship is cut short as Qiushui has to leave Taiwan in a hurry (due to the event of the 228 incident in 1947). As he leaves they profess their love for each other, and promise to meet up when they can. Qiushui then travels SE Asia, serving as a military Doctor in the Korean war (where he meets the tomboyish Wan Jindi (Li Bing Bing), and onwards to Tibet. All the while the two estranged lovers hunt for each other (remember this was well before the internet, along with huge communication restrictions). Qiushui and Jindi eventually fall for each other – albeit rather begrudgingly and almost an acceptance on both their parts that she is second best. Tragedy then hits. Interspersed with this is the tale of Wang Biyun’s niece in the modern day (Isabella Leong) tracking down the story of her Aunt and her Lover.
It is undoubtedly a beautiful film. The city and countryside of Taiwan are beautifully realised, as is the closed space of the trenches of the Korean war, along with the more stark vistas of Tibet. But then I expect this quality of image from a Chinese film. Acting wise, just about everyone is watchable, but kudos has to be given to the playful Tomboy/lovelorn girl portrayed by Li Bing Bing – she really has become one of my favourite actresses in the last 12 months. It helps that her character has more to deal with (at least in her initial appearances) than being upset that she can’t be with the one she loves. Chen Kun is as ok as ever, yet he always seems to lack just that little bit of screen presence. Vivian Hsu gets short shrift as for most of the story she ends up being miserable and withdrawn, which is a shame as in the early pat of the film she is quite enchanting.
The real issue that I have with the film is that it suffers from terrible pacing. In fact it suffers from something I call “Cancelled Comic Book Pacing”. In comic books, it is quite common that a series is cancelled whilst the writer is in the middle of a longer storyline. If they are lucky, then they get one issue to wrap up as much as they can, in usually a rushed and unsatisfying manner. And this is how this film collapses. We reach an interesting point in the story, and the film seems to realise it only has 20 minutes left to run. Now I know films are not made sequentially, so this surely has to be deliberate on part of the filmmakers. This means we are rushed to a conclusion through extremely short snatches of image. There is a tragedy afoot, and it is basically rushed through, giving us little time to absorb what is happening. This viewer felt somewhat cheated.
There is also a strange style choice, where most scenes are cut between by using a fade-to-black, reminiscent of that used in “In The Mood For Love”. But whilst in that film is worked because of the almost dream-like nature of the story, here it actually becomes rather intrusive and distracting.
Some commentators seem to have been equally distracted by the modern-day sequences, but I felt they were ok, and indeed, without them, I think I would have been even more unsatisfied.
There is also a strange message being given – something along the lines of “sometimes it is better to settle for second best”. I’m not sure if this is the most positive idea a film has ever tried to posit, and whilst it may be quite realistic, it seems rather downbeat.
However, for all these faults, there is so much to admire here in terms of atmosphere and acting. Yet again, a little more care to the actual structure of the story and it could have been something rather exceptional, yet it still gets the Things Fall Apart Recommended stamp. But far from essential.