Chung Man Yee (director), And I Hate You So (Siu chan chan), 2000. 96 min.
At the start of And I Hate You So, Chung Man Yee’s 2000 romantic comedy set in Hong Kong, we meet Luna Ng (portrayed by Kelly Chen), who wakes up sneezing in a darkened room. She finds that her electricity has been cut off, and her day continues to decline when her laptop fails and she loses the column she needs to submit later that day.
With no recourse, Luna treats herself and saunters into a secondhand store in her Soho neighbourhood. Among the bric-a-brac, she spots a collection of vinyl records. Smiling, she muses to the store proprietor, “I gave my first boyfriend one of these. It was a token of our love.” And, on the album cover of Together, she finds a note in her own handwriting to her former flame.
Luna demands to buy the album from Cat (portrayed by Teresa Mo), the proprietor, who tells her it’s on hold. Cat offers to give her other customer a ring to see if he might change his mind. He listens to Luna’s story, and at first appears sympathetic, but ends up telling Cat he’ll be round to pick it up later. No deal. Luna storms off.
And now, we meet Cheung Yung (portrayed by Aaron Kwok). He is a cocksure radio DJ who plays vinyl records and flippantly dispenses advice for his fans. He has an answer for everyone and doesn’t care whom he offends, but he certainly loves the music. He starts the day’s show by telling his audience about this classic jazz album and his encounter with “some emotional lady” who wanted to get her love token back just to destroy it. “Isn’t it time to move on? So really, I’ve rescued this, so you can enjoy it.”
Of course, Cheung Yung has not had the last word. Luna retaliates by publishing a column about his cold-bloodedness and accuses him of polluting ears and spewing ridiculous advice. Over lunch, Cheung Yung’s girlfriend reads him Luna’s musings and war ensues.
And I Hate You So plays on the close-knit connections between Hongkongers and relationships that are lost and found. At a party, Luna and Cheung Yung turn out to be friends of friends, which only ends up creating further impetus for mutual antagonism. Yuen Cheng-Hau (portrayed by Julian Cheung), Luna’s former boyfriend, randomly shows up and takes Luna to the hospital. He explains the loss of the vinyl record she gave him and persuades her to move to Vancouver with him. Even our supporting characters Cat and Mo (portrayed by Eric Tsang) find each other as they clash in Victoria Park over Momo, a dog who was once abandoned. Old love abounds.
Preservation and old-school culture are ongoing themes. Our main characters are a news columnist and a DJ, bastions of traditional media in the age of the Internet, and the muted cinematography with a yesteryear glow adds to the nostalgia of the film’s vinyl records, first generation CD players, paperbacks, laundromats, full umbrellas, cockroaches (!), public library newspaper archives, comfortable old sofas, Chinese martial arts movies, The X-Files, secondhand stores that are “full of stories” and paper dictionaries.
There is a strong contrast between these humble relics and the glamour of online culture and globalism, with some sense of disapproval towards these newfangled developments. At one point, Luna finds herself hosting a Love ICQ live and awkwardly gives advice to a distraught fan. She is clearly far more at ease celebrating the release of her new book and signing autographs in person. Later, as Luna prepares to join the second wave of immigrants to Canada, she asks Cat whether she can sell her her library. Cat tells her, “We don’t keep books here. People don’t even buy new books these days, let alone old ones … but I can recommend a guy who’ll buy them by the pound for recycling.” Luna declines, looking slightly dejected.
The acting can be wooden and the chemistry between Chen and Kwok is somewhat forced in places, but the clash between the strong personalities of their characters is highly dramatic and engaging, perhaps more so than their mutual interest of the vinyl record that first threw them together. Still, the story is carried through in style by its solid script, distinctive characters, thoughtful themes, sumptuous scenes of Soho streets and wistful classic jazz tunes. The great crooners of yore, including Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, heighten the sense of wistfulness.
Set in the late 90s, And I Hate You So is nostalgic and mild—a fitting companion on a rainy Saturday or a slow day with a cold or flu.
Vivian Tang is a writer, daydreamer, crafter and teacher. She is currently reading Frank McCourt’s autobiographies, Ernest Cline’s Ready, Player One , John Yorke’s Into the Woods and John McPhee’s Draft No. 4. She can be found chipping away at her sci fi novel from a decade ago on the identity of work in the Hong Kong community, encouraging her fellow writers in weekly Meetups and, just for fun, binding journals. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from City University of Hong Kong. Vivian’s journal and shop are up at bit.ly/v-stories