Funeral March (常在我心)

funeral march

Funeral March does death well, better than it does terminal illness, and the movie surprises with its unshrinking approach. There are some overly sentimental moments and the mood music swells a little too heavily at times, but it’s a restrained and affecting film that also showcases Eason Chan as a worthy dramatic actor.

Chan stars as Duan, a funeral director who’s lending a hand to the family business. It’s a quiet role for the singer-actor, who is better known for playing hyperactive characters that explode all over the screen, a sort of yapping jack-in-the-box can’t be stuffed back inside. He takes the opposite approach here, and though the central story revolves around Yee (Charlene Choi), Duan is the one who grounds the film and gives most meaning to life and death.

He is skilled at his job, a sincere mediator of grief who dispenses words of sympathy to the bereaved without making them ding like empty baubles. When Yee, a terminal cancer patient, comes in requesting that he plan her funeral, his instinct is to politely refuse and encourage her to seek a more optimistic course of action. Yee’s inquiry is a sensible one to the Western imagination but a bit jarring for the average Hong Konger. Duan agrees anyway, on the condition that she make some last ditch attempts to get cured. The medicine is not great here, and it’s assumed that a few pills and a round of surgery will do the trick.

Eliding the pitiable suffering parts works in the film’s favor though and puts the focus on Yee and Duan as she tries to repair relationships, mostly with her stepmother (Pauline Yam) and distant father (Kenneth Tsang), and he provides much needed guidance. As their companionship shifts to something deeper, they are again challenged by illness, because cancer is kind of a bitch.

Choi has a heavy burden of portraying a young woman who prematurely faces her own mortality. She elicits some sympathy but hadn’t matured enough as an actress by this point to give Yee the emotional depth she deserves. Yee looks forlorn as she waits for Duan at the death certificate issuing office, but Choi doesn’t invite greater introspection and doesn’t betray any more feelings of anger, confusion, disappointment, or whatever else might be going through her mind.

Chan, by contrast, earns a great deal of empathy by emoting very little. Loner Duan flashes a tortured smile or a pained but compassionate gaze and instantly exposes something of himself that perhaps he’d rather keep hidden. Persistent over-actor Liu Kai-Chi as Duan’s friend similarly holds back and proves twice as effective. The pair, especially in the film’s final act, add to the funereal stillness that permeates the picture. Their performances along with an unshowy death scene help this picture stand out.

“Live Well” (活著多好) by Eason Chan:

“Sleepless World” (全世界失眠) by Eason Chan:

Released: 2001
Prod: Gordon Chan 陳嘉上; Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Chan Kam-Kuen 陳敢權; Sunny Chan 陳詠燊
Cast: Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Kenneth Tsang 曾江; Pauline Yam 任葆琳; Sheila Chan 陳淑蘭; Yu Sai-Tang 余世騰; Candy Lo 盧巧音; Marco Lok 駱力煒
Time: 97 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

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