C'EST LA VIE, MON CHERIE

1993

Written and directed by Derek Yee Tung-Sing.
With Anita Yuen Wing-Yee and Lau Ching-Wan, Carrie Ng Ka-Lai, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Petrina Fung Bo-Bo and Paul Chun Pui.


IN THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY SORROWS, A FLOWER…


Girl meets man. They fall in love. Her cancer flares. And then… Sounds like a familiar story. Yet, C'est La Vie, Mon Chérie is a much better film than this flippant yet accurate summary would suggest.


Kit is an uncompromising jazz musician (Lau Ching-Wan looking suitably cool and forlorn) who resents the fact that he has to make popular music in order to earn a living. Rejecting the fame and fortune pop music could bring him, he leaves his popstar girlfriend and moves in an old apartment in a working-class neighborhood of Hong Kong. There he soon meets Min, his young downstairs neighbor (played with irresistible charm by Anita Yuen) and her extended family, a troop of itinerant musicians and singers earning a meager living by putting on performances of Chinese opera in open-air night markets.

Reluctantly at first, Kit is little by little introduced through Min to a side of life he has never known as she undertakes the self-imposed task of shaking him out of his lethargy. With her boundless energy and enthusiasm she slowly drags the gloomy musician out of his depression. Inevitably, love blooms.

There is a documentary quality to the film as we follow the couple in their wanderings through a Hong Kong peopled with ordinary folks displaying in their simplicity humor, tenderness, love. Kit at first finds the way Min and her family perform at night markets demeaning as they seem to pander to the vulgar crowd in order to earn the few coins and notes that are metaphorically and sometimes literally thrown at them. In his eyes, the way Ling, the troupe's main singer, performs classic Chinese opera arias as her grubby audience waves Hong Kong dollars is akin to whoring. His opinion changes when he attends one of the troop's performances in a village outside of Hong Kong. On this occasion he is impressed by Ling's pride and conviction, as she appears on the makeshift stage in full costume and make up. Some aspects of the opera's production may be amateurish, yet the talent of the singer shines through and the audience composed of villagers of all ages is enthralled. Kit is puzzled by the fact that with such a talent, Ling persists in performing in such shabby circumstances. The troop may be losing money by touring and staging Chinese operas as Min explains to him later that evening, yet the pleasure they bring to their audience and the appreciation they receive in return is ample reward.

From his initial reluctance in dealing with the impositions of life, both personal and professional, Kit has been progressively led to reassess his attitudes. A dwindling bank account balance and the realization that one's integrity is more often than not defined by one's own awareness of "the other" evidently contributed to the shift in his thinking, yet it is Min's love and her need for support when adversity suddenly strikes that finally move him to the point of redefining his priorities. With his new state of mind, Kit might still be powerless in bending the world to his will yet in one of life's great irony, it is by making himself vulnerable to pain that he finally gains the ultimate freedom; the freedom to love, which is life… and life can be so very cruel.

This leads to the last part of the film which is concerned with Min's shattering breakdown when the bone cancer she suffered from as a child (it was in remission) flares up again. Her reaction to the news that her old enemy has surfaced again is one of frustration and anger. The determination and the confidence, gall even, she displayed from the very first moment she set eyes on Kit crumble tragically. She does not accept her fate. She cannot. The pride that served her so well now gets in the way of any possible acceptance.

Min only wants to isolate herself, but Kit is still there…

Admittedly, the final third of C'est La Vie, Mon Chérie is not particularly original. Yet the events leading to the tale's conclusion are depicted in a sensitive and understated manner fitting well within the context of the whole film. As the saying goes, life was never meant to be a rose garden. That may be so. Nonetheless the film in the end asserts shamelessly that it is still a garden, where the most deeply felt emotions can and will flourish given the proper care.

All great love stories (everyday one too) may be doomed right from the start yet they have the power to inspire. The lesson that Min and Kit teach us is that although pride may be a virtue in some circumstances, it is love that makes life liveable.




Deservedly so, C'est La Vie, Mon Chérie swept the 13th Hong Kong Film Awards in 1994 by earning eleven nominations, eventually winning in the Best Film, Best actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Director categories. Of all the elements contributing to the success of the film, the outstanding one is without any doubt the bravura performance of Anita Yuen. Her consummate portrayal of Min makes for such a strong yet vulnerable female character that it is the kind of achievement rarely seen in films. Also worthy of mention is the film's evocative soundtrack with its perfect blend (however improbable it may appear on paper) of orchestral music, modern ballads, popular songs, jazz, cha cha cha and last but not least, achingly beautiful Chinese opera arias.

GALLERY