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Director: Pang Ho-Cheung (2006)


Isabella won the Silver Bear for best music at the Berlin Movie Festival for its lilting Portuguese score. But beyond its sensuous soundscape, entrancing performances by Chapman To and Isabella Leung give director Pang's mid-handover Macau a dash of poetic grime, and it's easy to imagine the film with more than gleaming bears in its future.


Shing (To) is an undercover cop who, suspended on corruption charges, hangs out in downtown Macau (imagine In the Mood for Love in daylight). Despite his rotund figure and pouting sofa lips, forty-something Shing enjoys a flourishing bachelor's life, night after night picking up girls in scanty summer dresses. His habit comes back to bite him when one of his single-nighters, the leggy, taciturn Yan (Leung), declares that she is his daughter. Instead of disappearing after extorting US$ 300 from him for her overdue rent, Yan lingers in Shing's stairwell until he lets her crash in his one-bedroom apartment. Yan's dog, Isabella, which her mother gave to her before dying a few months earlier, goes missing, and Yan replaces her mourning with a blossoming affection for Shing as they search for the dog. The cliche of newly united father and daughter discovering kinship is undercut by the unpretentious scenery, the setting sun lighting rusted walls, a delicate piano line rippling through shots of empty streets. Yan's unrepentant trespass on her father's life brings comedy. She repels his numerous sexual partners by turning off the air-conditioning during heated sessions on blazing afternoons, or by challenging them to drinking competitions. Tragedy seeps back into their lives though, as Shing's past corruption leads to jail time. Isabella is slow-paced yet moving – a true masterpiece of Hong Kong cinema.


(That's Beijing April 27, 2006)

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