A young man plays a cello in his apartment. There’s a knock on the door, and a woman walks past the cellist to answer it. She is immediately pulled back away from the door, and seconds later we see a man furiously having sex with her. At this point a severed head comes bouncing into the room from the balcony outside. And scene.
You absolutely cannot fault the opening scene of Hong Kong feature G Affairs, which is simultaneously bold, surreal, surprising, and somehow quite nauseating. New director Lee Cheuk-pan does a fabulous job of grabbing his audience violently and yanking it into his bleak and twisted drama. Who is the cellist? Who is having sex? Why are they having sex in front of a cellist? Is the sex consensual? Is everybody okay, and what the hell is up with the severed head? The ensuing 100 minutes or so of action begins with a diverse and seemingly unrelated set of characters and gradually pulls them all together into a singular narrative leading up to the original incident. It is heavy in flashbacks, narration, and a somewhat complicated non-linear narrative.
The films begins with a sullen high school student named Yu Ting (Hanna Chan), nicknamed “G” by the other students. It soon expands to incorporate pious Christian school teacher Markus (Alan Yuk), corrupt police detective Lung (Chapman To), autistic high schooler Don (Kyle Li), the teen cellist Tai (Lam Sem), and a sex worker from the mainland named Mei (Huang Lu). The opening half hour seems a genuine challenge, and lacks a narrative focus to help draw the viewer through the film. There are rewards for the patient, however, as the film’s second half in particular begins placing together the jigsaw puzzle to reveal unexpectedly links and relationships. The ending feels both satisfying and emotionally complex. There was almost certainly a less complicated way for Lee to tell his story, but the experimental handling of it does ultimately pay dividends.
Hanna Chan brings strong and subtle work to her central role as Yu Ting, whose mother has died and whose father has shacked up with an odious step-mother. It is a clever performance, as it comes based on details to which the audience is initially unaware, and yet has a consistency that allows it to all fall together as the film unfolds. The supporting cast are also excellent, particularly Huang Lu as Mei – who handles a splendid transition in how her character is perceived by her audience.
Vivid camera work and editing are impressive and arresting, however Lee chooses the frame the film’s themes via a constant reliance on the English letter “G”. Captions and slogans, repeated use of words beginning with “G”, and other devices are ultimately quite tedious and distracting – one artistic approach too many in an already stylised picture. The end result is something valuable but flawed; the potential is enormous, and it will be worth keeping an eye on Lee’s career to see what eventuates. He has already followed G Affairs up with the grimy crime feature The Fallen (2019), which has received a more muted response. For anyone seeking a provocative combination of art, pretense, and pulp, G Affairs is definitely worth a look.