Cover A film still from Love after Love. Courtesy of Golden Scene.

Celebrated filmmaker Ann Hui’s adaptation of Eileen Chang’s classic novella finally debuts at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival this month. Read on for more information about the film, plus where you can get a ticket.

Ann Hui’s highly anticipated Chinese-language romance drama, Love after Love, is now showing in Hong Kong as part of this year’s Hong Kong Asian Film Festival until November 14. Starring Ma Sichun, a Golden Horse best actress, and Feihong Yu, who is known for her role in the 1993 film The Joy Luck Club, Love after Love premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September 2020 and was screened at Busan International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival shortly afterwards.

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This film features all the best elements of Hong Kong. It’s a love story set in the 1930s and shot by legendary cinematographer and Wong Kar-wai collaborator Christopher Doyle, while Hui became the first Hong Kong female director to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Venice International Film Festival last year.

Read on for Hui’s perspective on directing Love after Love.

1. Hui’s love affair with Eileen Chang

Love after Love is adapted from Shanghainese romance writer Eileen Chang’s Aloeswood Incense: The First Brazier. This is the third time that Hui has adapted Chang’s work after Love in a Fallen City, starring Chow Yun-fat, in 1984, and 1997’s Eighteen Springs, featuring Leon Lai and Anita Mui.

“I was asked by a producer from Bluebird Pictures to direct the film in 2017,” Hui says. “It is a very faithful adaptation. We did not change the storyline at all but filled in some detailed scenes for the second half of the novel, which is too short.” She adds, “My favourite Eileen Chang novel is actually Eighteen Springs.”

Aloeswood Incense: The First Brazier is a novella originally published in Violet, a popular Chinese literary journal in the 1920s. It tells the tale of a young girl called Ge Weilong who, with her Shanghainese family, fled to Hong Kong from the Battle of Shanghai, which started in 1937. After her family realised they couldn’t afford to live in Hong Kong and decided to return home, Ge moved in with her wealthy widowed aunt to finish her schooling in Hong Kong. Gradually, she found herself becoming addicted to the city’s materialistic lifestyle and being used as a social butterfly for her aunt’s own romantic interest. Chang drew from her own experience studying at the University of Hong Kong during the World War I when writing the story.

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2. Adapting Chang isn’t easy at all

Chang’s writing is known for its poetic and metaphor-laced descriptions of her characters, which at times dominates many pages. Coming from Shanghai, she often wrote with the Shanghainese dialect that mirrors the Haipai people, an avantgarde Shanghainese clan who immigrated to south-eastern China and became known for their fashionable lifestyle and progressive values.

Hui says that retaining Chang’s elegant language, one of the reasons for the writer’s enduring popularity, wasn’t a piece of cake. “We tell the story in a pretty straightforward way. We have retained most of the dialogue of the original but we cannot exactly present the extremely evocative, descriptive passages of the external scenes, the atmosphere, and the thoughts and emotions of the characters,” she says. Hui brought the author of Everlasting Regret, Temptress Moon, Wang Anyi, onboard as screenwriter to tackle the adaptation. Wang related to Chang in the sense that her style is to focus on the characters’ psychology to the extent that that their decisions are often unexplained and audiences often have to read between the lines to speculate a motive.

3. Working with the greats

Producer Danny Liu brought together a team of talents for Love After Love. The costumes, featuring sleek qipaos, detailed headpieces and smart suits reflecting an old Hong Kong, are designed by Japanese Academy Award-winning theatrical, move and ballet costume designer Emi Wada, who is known for her work on 2004’s House of Flying Daggers, 1985’s Ran and Hero in 2002. The film’s music is by Japanese composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose score of The Last Emperor in 1987 won the Academy Award for best music. Doyle, who honed a moody visual style in his work with Wong Kar Wai, paints a bleak picture of war-torn Hong Kong and Ge’s complicated inner state of mind.

“I am very happy and honoured to work with all three,” Hui says. “They are great people, artists and professionals.”

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4. What Hui wants to say to Chang

Despite being an established filmmaker who has bagged dozens of major national and international awards, Hui has her concerns for this film. “The greatest challenge is that you can never satisfy Eileen Chang fans. To appeal to audiences of this age with a period piece is difficult,” she says.

When asked what she would like to tell Chang if the writer was still alive, Hui is characteristically deferential. She says, “I would apologise to Eileen because try as I did, I still feel my work has not done total justice to her work. But if the film can lead more people to [read] the original novel, it would be alright, I guess.”

5. A sneak peek

Watch this trailer before the film hits cinemas on November 14.

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