Let me get this out of the way up front: She Remembers He Forgets is a local film that I can’t fully appreciate because I’m not local. I didn’t go to school here, and I don’t speak anywhere near enough Cantonese to really get all the depth and nuance in the story. That doesn’t mean I can’t understand the movie. I’m just saying there are things in She Remembers He Forgets that I may not get, may not appreciate, or maybe even understand.
But that’s not unique to Hong Kong or even Chinese cinema.
I sat in a cinema in Washington DC watching There’s Something About Mary, and because of where and when I grew up, there were jokes and references that I got, and laughed at, and no one else in the cinema did. When I watch an American movie in Hong Kong (a rare occasion, I admit), there’s a lot of stuff that I notice, or laugh about, and again, I’m the only one doing it.
So yes, local films have a locality that is unique to them. But locality is not unique.
Let’s get back to talking about She Remembers, He Forgets. Because it’s a really, really good film even without all the deep references. In fact, it’s almost two films. Because part of it takes place in the present, but most of it takes place in the past.
Miriam Yeung plays Fung, a woman whose ten-year marriage to Shing, played by Jan Lamb, has settled into the typical drudgery of professional, urban existence; working too many hours for too little money, surrounded by people you don’t like and not having enough time to spend with the people you do like. At an informal school reunion, Fung reminisces about her school days and starts thinking about what she, and her life, and her friends, were like back then.
As I said, most of the movie takes place in 1992, with the main characters being played by much younger actors, all of whom are very good. I’m not going to tell you much about the story, because you need to see it yourself, and I don’t want to spoil anything.
But I do want to tell you just how good the movie is. Adam Wong directed She Remembers He Forgets. It’s his second film after 2013’s The Way We Dance, a very interesting film about local dance culture.
It’s nice to see a movie where we get to know the characters so well, and so thoroughly. It’s nice to see a movie that’s not aimed at teenagers. It’s nice to see a movie so realistic, so well-acted, and so emotionally affecting without ever becoming melodramatic. At times the story veers dangerously close to maudlin, but the movie is so well-done and so well-acted, I didn’t really mind.
By the same token, the film manages to make some political statements, but does it in subtle and yet undeniable ways. In a scene from 1992, students talk about what Hong Kong will be like in 20 years, and it puts the present into very sharp focus. They talk about things like electing the Chief Executive, 1 Country 2 Systems, Hong Kong’s role as a financial center, and even the nature of co-production of local films with China.
Speaking of which, watch for the easter egg when the students talk about their dream jobs.
Dreaming of the future and remembering the past are central themes at work in She Remembers He Forgets, and as someone with a lot more of life to look back on than look forward to, I can say that this film is probably going to appeal to an older audience. Anyone can enjoy it because it’s so well-made, but the older you are, the more it’s likely to affect you. It’s a rare treat to leave a cinema so thoroughly impressed, and I really, really appreciated it.
As much as people want to sound the death knell for Hong Kong cinema, I’d suggest that these very localized films, of which we’ve seen several in the last few years, are some of the best, most interesting movies Hong Kong has produced of late.
She Remembers He Forgets is the kind of movie that deserves the highest praise I can give it: it’s much too good for me to be talking about it.