Well Go USA // 2012 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 7th, 2013
Who are we? Do we really know? For most of us, we are an amalgamation of our heritage, parental DNA divvied up so that some small segments of our lineage lives out through us. Others may find that connection cut off, either via death or abandonment, still biologically linked but adrift in a world of fosters and adopted families. For Bo (Aaron Kwok, The Detective), the issues are even more complex. Given up at birth, he finds himself labeled a "half breed" because of his Caucasian looks and bright blue eyes. His "new" mother and father are tanka boat people who live on the waters of Hong Kong and eke out a meager living as fishermen.
They want their boy to follow in their footsteps, but Bo has other ideas. He wants to use his unusual looks to better himself, eventually finding a path away from the floating city he used to live amongst and into the business world of the metropolis proper. Because he can read and write, he finds a job at the British East India Company. Soon, he is being schooled in the ways of savvy social climbing by Fion (Annie Liu) much to the chagrin of his wife Tai (Charlie Yeung). No matter how successful he becomes, however, he cannot escape the pleasures, and the pains, of his previous life among the tanka.
Floating City is a simple allegory, a look at one man's rise to prominence against the backdrop of a locale that is just as limited as he was...is. Hong Kong, as viewed through the cinematically sumptuous lens of director Ho Yim (Pavilion of Women), is a character in and of itself, similar to Bo in that it is neither wholly Chinese or wholly British. Instead, it's a mutt, an amalgamation of differing cultural conceits which mirror our hero's harrowing journey. Much of the movie is made up of flashbacks (we initially see Bo preparing for some fancy dress occasion) and said situation sends his memory back to his days among the tanka. It was a brutal childhood, filled with destitution and regular beatings from a ill-prepared father who can't control his contempt for his accidental son. Similarly, as he gets in good with the movers and shakers on the mainland, he has to put up with awful prejudice and preconceived bias based solely on his looks.
The problem is that Yim has other fish to fry as well, to forgive the partial pun. He wants to comment on the corrupt way things in Hong Kong work while lifting up the far from innocent tanka. He also wants Bo to be a solid center for this entire exercise and Aaron Kwok is not up to the task. He is more reactive than reflective, unable to show us how decades of being an actual outsider would build up to affect someone. Every horror he faces is like the first time with this character, no residual learning or leaning. Even worse, his desire to better himself seems to come from the kind of self-loathing this film appears to be rallying against. Sure, there are some heart rendering moments, as when Bo's brothers and sisters are separated out, with a few sent to a Christian orphanage because the family can no longer afford them, and we don't want to see this character buckle under the weight of unworthy racial hatred. But Floating City seems content with being less than it could while believing it is more, offering up tone poem beauty with a sadly insignificant core concept.
Well Go USA usually does a good job with these high def digital transfers, and Floating City is no different. It was shot in the same format, and it shows. The 1080p, 2.35:1 image is so sharp, so detailed, you can actually see some flaws in the filmmaking and F/X along the way. Yim shoots for a desaturated color scheme and the presentation makes ample use of such aesthetic aims. As for the sound situation, we are treated to a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that's never really given a good challenge. Sure, when Bo's adopted mother is struggling against a mighty storm at the beginning of the film, the channels come alive in a wholly immersive maelstrom. But since most of the movie is conversations or telling silences, we don't get a lot of multi-speaker dimension. There's lots of ambient noise, but that's about it. The same goes for the added content. All we have here is a trailer. Nothing else, which is a shame, since an overview of Yim's career, or a history of Hong Kong itself, would have been nice.
In the end, it's hard to say if Bo ever comes to terms with his mixed heritage. He is certainly still as oddly enigmatic as he was at the beginning of his travails. In fact, he's a lot like the film which features him. Floating City has ambitions and artistic aims in abundance. In the end, it's difficult to decipher if Yim and company accomplished them, or remain as mysterious as the man they choose to celebrate.
Not guilty, but barely. Gorgeous to look at. Hard to get a real handle on.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Cantonese)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R