Synopsis by Gönül Dönmez-Colin
Ann Hui, a prominent filmmaker in the former British colony of Hong Kong, reflects on the political history of her country in a remarkable work, Qian Yan Wan Yu. The film centers on four people involved in the political activism of 1980's who reflect on their turbulent past from the vantage point of the disillusionment of the 1990's. The story begins with a young woman, Sow, fleeing into an empty tunnel wearing only a hospital gown. She is suffering from amnesia, and the memory she has lost includes a disappointing love story and a decade of social struggle in Hong Kong. Her old friend and admirer Tung, who is now working in a home for the retarded, is there to help her. In a flashback we see Sow as a fourteen-year-old, stealing Tung's wallet in a video arcade; this is their first meeting. Sow's relatives are fishermen who live on a boat and are not allowed to settle in Hong Kong. When she loses her family to a fire, she throws herself to the cause of fighting for the rights of the boat people. At the same time, she is obsessed by an idealist student, Yau. Ah Kam, a priest influenced by Marxism, is their mentor. Tung, on the other hand, prefers to play his guitar. By the mid Eighties, Hong Kong is on its way to a political awakening, and Sow and Tung are members of an activist group with Yau as their leader and Ah Kam as their conscience. But Sow is unable to get over her crush on Yau, despite the fact he is involved with someone else; Sow, however, is unaware of Tung's love for her and treats him like a good friend, as Tung finds comfort in his music. Yau wants to fight the system from within and runs for public office, eventually winning, while Ah Kam remains a pacifist radical and stages hunger strikes. Sow gets what she wants, but ends up in a border clinic having an abortion. One day Tung leaves to wander into China, promising Sow they will meet three months after. June 4, 1989, the day of the crackdown on Tiananmen Square, is for Sow the day when her political and emotional lives come crashing down. Street theatre sequences, which chronicle the life of real life activist Ng Chung Yin frame the story and offer oblique comments and parallel situations that pull the events of the characters' lives in historical context. Taking off from real events and real people, Hui relates the public lives of the characters as well as their hidden desires and half-denied sexual yearnings, producing a very credible account of the times and the people. Audiences who are not too familiar with Hong Kong's social and political history may have difficulties following the thread of events. Nelson Yu's photography is exceptional. Taiwanese star, Lee Kang-Sheng, who is familiar to the West for her roles in the award-winning films of Tsai Ming-Liang, plays Tung. Qian Yan Wan Yu competed at the 49th International Berlin Film Festival in 1999.