Last Letter / 你好，之华 / Lit: Hello Zhihua (2018)
director & writer: Shunji Iwai
cast: Zhou Xun, Qin Hao, Zhang Zifeng, Deng Enxi , Bian Tianyang
A married woman’s older sister passes away leaving behind two children. At the sister’s house she finds an invitation to her middle school reunion. The woman decides to go to tell her sister’s old classmates the bad news but ends up being mistaken as her sister. At the reunion she notices a man whom she had a crush on as a teenager. He approaches her, also assuming that she is her sister, and they exchange contact info. She begins writing letters to him under her sister’s name.
This is Shunji Iwai’s first Chinese language film and fans of him will likely enjoy this one. It definitely becomes emotional at times and is a fine example of a tearjerker. The feelings of loss, longing and dreams unfulfilled are themes that strongly persist throughout the story. Deceit and pretending to do something or be someone else because of love also happens here and it’s something that has occurred in other films by Iwai.
However, don’t expect there to be much explanation as to why these people liked or loved each other despite one character telling another to write all the things he likes about a girl. Also don’t expect to see actual scenes of the main characters in a relationship, what is shown on screen is essentially the beginning of teenage courtship and adult regrets or what-ifs. What happened in between is simply summarized in letters. The focus is very much on the teenagers and their youthful, naive love.
The acting is convincing and nuanced. Although Zhou Xun is the main character as the adult Zhihua and one of the big draws of the movie, it’s actually the younger actresses, Zhang Zifeng and Deng Enxi who have the more difficult emotional scenes. They also play dual roles as the teenage versions of the sisters Zhihua and Zhinan and also their daughters Saran and Mumu in the present time. The character of Yin Chuan is less interesting and being so stuck in the past makes him seem a bit of lame character but he ends up being a catalyst for healing of some of the other characters.
As usual, Shunji Iwai also composed the score and there are some beautifully moving instrumental pieces. Cinematography is also nice.
I enjoyed the film very much for its emotional impact. It’s hard to describe how the movie manages to accomplish this with a story and characters which seem pretty pedestrian at times. There is a universal appeal here that I think many can relate to. Apparently this film is going to be remade by Iwai in Japanese in 2019.
This plays until Thursday at Cineplex Forum.