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March 25th, 2002 Issue #101

Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.

Breaking The Silence
(1999; Zhujiang Film Co. / Guangdong Sanjiu Film Co.)

Cover art courtesy WideSight.

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Piu leung ma ma
Mandarin: Piao liang ma ma
English: Beautiful Mother


In addition to working long hours in a factory, impoverished single mother Sun Liying (Gong Li) must devote all of her scant free time to helping young son Zheng Da (Gao Xin), who was born almost entirely deaf and cannot speak coherently.Liying hopes that enroling Da in a regular school will help the boy overcome his affliction by giving him greater exposure to the regular speech of everyday life. However, one of the boy's hearing aids is destroyed in a scuffle with some taunting children and the school's principal decides that Da cannot stay because he will not be able to keep up with his peers. Liying's reckless ex-husband (Guan Yue) is of virtually no help, barely even paying his meagre child support of 200 yuan a month. Now holding down several jobs at once, Liying is able to continue her tutoring by taking Da along with her during the day. The child makes good progress over the ensuing months, and is offered the chance to enrol once again, if he can pass a school speech test. However, there are still hardships and many sacrifices on the road ahead.

Gong Li. Image courtesy WideSight.
Click here for a bonus image of Gong Li (courtesy WideSight).

Prior to the film's release, much was made of the fact that Gong Li would be appearing sans make-up in a deglamorized role, her similar turn as the feisty country girl in THE STORY OF QI JIU having been conveniently forgotten by the publicists. BREAKING THE SILENCE works along much the same lines as that Zhang Yimou effort, offering a semi-documentary look at the lives of contemporary China's lower classes. As can be readily deduced from the synopsis, the storyline here is considerably more conventional and Sun Zhou's direction is not especially daring, relying heavily on close-ups. However, the actress is able to make the most of these moments, conveying her character's strength, determination, and quiet dignity so beautifully, the production's weaknesses seem far less imperative. It also helps that Gao Xin (who actually suffers from his character's disabilities) manages to earn one's sympathy, unlike so many HK child performers. Interestingly, BREAKING THE SILENCE is a feel good film that surprises somewhat by concluding without the glib wrap-up one is expecting, which may explain why North American distributors (who normally stampede to buy anything featuring Gong) passed on it. The ending, ultimately, is the only expectation that the film defies. Nonetheless, the picture remains rewarding on a basic dramatic level, and demonstrates once more what a world class talent Gong Li is.The director and star recently teamed up again for Zhou yu de huo che ("Zhou Yu's Train"), a contemporary romance due for release later this year.

DVD Specs:

WideSight #WSDVD1205
Dolby Digital 5.1
Mandarin Language Track
Permanent Subtitles In Traditional Chinese and English
6 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips
Letterboxed (1.48:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
91 Minutes
Contains mild sexual violence and some coarse language

DVD menu courtesy WideSight.

Film Board Ratings and Consumer Advice

Hong Kong: I
Singapore: PG


BREAKING THE SILENCE is above WideSight's usual low standards but still only fair at best. The image is dark and contrasts tend to be weak but hues are decent and the theatrical subtitles are legible (the English translation is very good). Unfortunately, there is nary a moment in the picture where the hollowed out 5.1 re-mix sounds natural. The end credits carry the Dolby Stereo logo but it is obvious that WideSight was working from a mono track. Overall, this is a bearable rendering and, for the time being, the only option for those requiring English translation.

BREAKING THE SILENCE is available at Poker Industries.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2002. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

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