After the emotional hardships of a fractured Chinese family in “Luxury Car,” Wang Chao heads for more intimate waters with the offbeat yuppie melodrama “Memory of Love.” Beautifully crafted, with stark HD-originated images, and punctuated by well-tempered performances, pic centers on a married woman who suffers amnesia after a car accident and can’t remember whom she truly desires, her husband or her lover. Potentially tear-jerking scenario is handled by Wang with a detached precision reminiscent of his previous films. “Memory” could linger in arthouse minds after bowing in France in August.
At once a throwback to Hollywood melodramas of the ’50s and a portrait of the nouveau riche generation of thirtysomething Chinese professionals, the script reveals a world where love is difficult to obtain, quickly lost and not easily bought back. Progressively cold, eerie and sentimental — a combination some viewers may find disconcerting — the plot is built around a pivotal car crash that’s shown from several different angles throughout.
The accident, which occurs shortly after an opening engagement-party sequence thrown by future newlywed Qian Cheng (Wang Jianing), involves interior designer He Sizhu (Yan Bingyan) and her dance instructor/lover, Chen Mo (Jiao Gang). When they end up battered and bruised at the hospital, He’s stoic doctor husband, Li Xun (Li Naiwen), is forced to operate, leaving He with complete memory loss concerning the events of the past three years.
Initially, the action is captured from Li’s point of view, and the scene in which he learns his spouse was in a crash with another man is pulled off with convincing subtlety. Although he’s clearly distraught by his wife’s infidelity, Li helps her relive everything leading up to the accident, at which point she’ll “naturally” decide whom she truly loves.
Li goes through the motions of wooing He all over again in a series of troubling scenes, including a bout of extremely dispassionate lovemaking and a sequence in which they reshoot their wedding photo, down to the very same smiles. Like Jimmy Stewart making over Kim Novak in “Vertigo,” Li carries out his plan in a state of catatonic obsession, even reintroducing He to her future/past lover in his dance studio.
Li’s portrayal of the distraught doctor is a showcase of restraint, and Yan’s depiction of a woman who rediscovers her powerful feelings is both graceful and bizarre: One is never sure if she’s falling in love, or just remembering it. (The two thesps earlier played a dissatisfied married couple in Zhuang Yuxin’s 2006 “Teeth of Love.”)
Less satisfying is the character of Chen, whose swarthy tango dances and open-collared shirts make him look like the cliched fantasy of all unhappily married women. Ditto the soundtrack, which is filled with too many gushy classics by Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla.
HD lensing by d.p. Du Jie (“A Tale of Two Donkeys”) effectively frames the action in steady wide and medium shots, making full use of the glacial apartment and hospital settings where the drama often unfolds.
European version caught includes some sex scenes that will be snipped for Chinese release, per helmer. Original title literally means “Come Again.”