A Fishy Story
Year of release: 1989
Director: Anthony Chan
Action director: Chin Kar-Lok
Producer: Jessica Chan
Writers: Lo Wing-Keong, Eddie Fong, Anthony Chan
Cinematography: Peter Pau
Editing: Yu Jun, Kwong Chi-Leung
Music: Richard Yuen
Stars: Kenny Bee, Maggie Cheung, Anthony Chan, Josephine Koo, Carrie Ng, Lam Chung
Rated I for mild violence
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Long-time readers of this site (all two of you) will know that romantic movies aren't exactly my cup of tea. If fact, watching one is usually akin to life's lower moments like a root canal or waiting in line at the DMV. But, whether it was Maggie Cheung's effervescent performance or the overall gorgeous style of the film, watching A Fishy Story wasn't too bad. It fact, it was downright enjoyable.
Anthony Chan hasn't had a huge career as a director, only helming eight films in the late 1980's and early 1990's. But he has long been a fixture on the Hong Kong entertainment scene, with over sixty acting roles to his credit, and, probably more notably, as part of the seminal Cantopop group The Wynners, of which perhaps not coincidentally co-star Kenny Bee was also a member of.
At any rate, A Fishy Story is the pinnacle of Chan's directorial output, garnering several Hong Kong Film Awards, including ones for best cinematography, art direction, and Maggie Cheung snapping up a trophy for her work. This is no small feat, as 1989 saw some of the best releases of Hong Kong cinema's "golden age" to hit the screen, including All About Ah-Long, Miracles, Pedicab Driver, God of Gamblers, and some little movie you just might have heard a few things about called The Killer.
So why exactly is A Fishy Story so successful, transcending the cinematic chum that usually surrounds the romance genre? Sure, Peter Pau's cinematography is great to look at, as is Maggie Cheung, who looks absolutely adorable dressed in 1960's garb. But the main reason that A Fishy Story is a good movie is something that many directors in the genre seem to forget -- the performances. Maggie Cheung and Kenny Bee don't have any sort of smoldering sexuality or electric chemistry, but we, as the audience, can actually buy that they're a couple falling in love.
Eschewing many of the tropes of the genre that cause the majority of the releases to fall deeply into the shallow pit of mediocrity and melodrama, Anthony Chan allows his characters (and their relationship) to grow organically, instead of spoon-feeding emotions to the audience and then using the filmic equivalent of a sledge hammer -- the musical montage -- to drive the film's points across. It's this sense of mature film-making which ultimately sets A Fishy Story apart from the pack and make it something well worth watching, even if your usual cinematic diet consists of T&A and ultraviolence.