Is she a one night stand or is she his daughter?
This tantalizing hook was used to get the busy journalists to choose to watch Isabella among the huge number of films at the Berlin Film Festival this year and it worked!
To me Isabella was an unexpected pleasure to watch and one of the very best films at the festival.
Shing (Chapman To) is a police officer in Macao. It is the summer of 1999, the last summer before Macao is given back to the Chinese. Shing is suspended pending charges of corruption. He drinks and parties a lot. Looking for a prostitute he meets Yan (Isabella Leong) in a bar. Next morning as he wakes up in his own apartment, Yan is there telling him she is his daughter!
He never knew, he had a daughter, but slowly he starts to believe her. Yans mother just died of lung cancer, and Shing is now the only family she has. Slowly they become friends.
The story has a number of surprises in store for you, and some things are deliberately misleading. Did Shing have sex with Yan? Are they falling in love with each other? And
. no, I will not even hint about this.
It is a beautiful well thought out story. Especially in the beginning it is told with a lot of flash to keep you on your toes and guessing what is really going on. But basically it is a deeply moral story about love, honesty and commitment.
I had not seen Isabella Leong before, but I am going to look out for her in the future. She does very well in Isabella. She is perfect cast as the teenager who has to be both innocent and world wise, childish and mature and on top of that she is also beautiful!
Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung has made his most serious film to date, without being dogmatic about it. He uses seedy looking buildings and areas in Macao to underscore the corruption going on there. Yet, he makes the decay look beautiful. The deliberate hectic and misleading cutting at the beginning of the film, the framing of the shots and the shots themselves all makes for very impressive visuals.
As the mood of the film changes to a slower pace, the visuals follow suit. And to accentuate the visuals and the story is the music.
Isabella won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for best music very deservedly so. Peter Kam wrote the score and the use of Portuguese traditional fado music ending with Mariza singing Ó gente da minha terra shows how much the right music can do for a film.
Did you like the film? Chapman To asked me after the press conference at the Berlin Film Festival, when I got his autograph along with those of Isabella Leong and Pang Ho-cheung. Very much, I answered.
It is good to see that Hong Kong can still produce films worth seeing.