July Rhapsody (2002)
Ann Hui, Hong Kong
You don't often get quiet dramas like this in Hong Kong cinema, but when you do, they're usually frank reflections of a lived reality that feels genuine and culturally relevant. This, coming from someone who isn't actually from Hong Kong, but has always felt connected to its culture and through a surely skewed depiction of it in movies and television shows. And that's exactly why films like this are important. With July Rhapsody, there's no glamorization of the seemingly mundane domestic struggles faced by characters that seem ordinary to almost to a fault. There aren't necessarily major breakthroughs or solutions to their problems, and that's how things usually are in real life. Compare this to the depiction of similar events in a TVB drama or typical Hong Kong romantic comedy, and the effect is vastly different. But all cultural inferences aside, July Rhapsody is just a well shot, well acted and well scripted little film. Jacky Cheung will always be known for his singing abilities, but he's consistently demonstrated his strengths as an actor and this is a perfect example of that. Seeing him act alongside Anita Mui, who's fantastic as usual, is also a touching collabration that bears so much weight in the context of Hong Kong popular culture. And I sometimes forget that this was Karena Lam's acting debut - probably because you don't expect someone to be that damn good in her very first on-screen performance. Movies like July Rhapsody are Ann Hui's specialty, and when you're yearning for a more tame representation of Hong Kong's cultural tendencies, she never disappoints.
And I'll just end on a slightly unrelated note by saying that if you walk into Heaven in the Dark with any ounce of expectation driven by their previous collaboration (ie. this), you probably won't be completely satisfied. It's not a terrible movie by any accounts, but it's certainly no July Rhapsody!