I'm a sucker for anything Kaufmanesque, that special brand of weirdness with a metaphysical edge. I am not, however, a sucker for Hong Kong style melodrama. How about a Hong Kong Style melodrama with a metaphysical edge? Now you've got my attention.
Written By is the most recent directorial offering from Johnnie To collaborator Wai Ka-fai. It is a Russian doll story within a story within a story about a family that loses its patriarch in a tragic car accident. The man's daughter, now blind, decides to write a story in which the rest of the family died and the father survived. He, in turn, begins to write a story in which his family is reincarnated, they live in the cemetery together, and his daughter is Death's apprentice. Confused? Don't feel bad. Even the character of Death (Meng Po) has trouble figuring it all out.
Usually a film like this is worth the extra effort, but I had a hard time with this one. I can't figure out whether it was meant to be a serious melodrama with metaphysical overtones or an exercise in the genre, ala Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven. Either way, I did not enjoy that aspect of the film. Plus, it had a weird Harry Potter thing going on. In fact, if it weren't for all the horrible deaths, I'd say this played very much like a kid's movie. If this is what mainstream Hong Kong cinema has to offer, I'm not interested.
What started out as a potential, "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter" type of experience turned out to be more of a "you got your pickle in my peanut butter" experience, and I hate pickles. This left me with very mixed emotions. Take out the post-modern elements of the film and you're left with a giant, dill pickle. Even if the sappy, emotional content of the film was tongue-in-cheek, it is still hard to sit through. It's like in an attempt to emulate the tone and style of a bad movie, they were so successful they actually made a bad movie.
That's really all I have to say about this one. If you can deal with the melodramatic elements, there is plenty to like here. If you go in expecting the Hong Kong version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you might be disappointed.