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In Love We Trust / 左右

May 10, 2010
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It always boggles my mind how the translation of film titles are handled in Asian cinema. Perhaps as a native speaker, I find certain attempts to simplify or “westernize” a perfectly fine, poignant Chinese title into English abhorrent. Perhaps, certain meanings that lie inherent in the Chinese characters simply can not be translated without losing lustre. Here is such a case where the original title: 左右, which literally translates to “Left, Right,” is perfectly symbolic of the film, and should have been, in my opinion, preserved (precedent: Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”).

Instead, the film is known as In Love We Trust (2008), and tells a story of love, trust, sacrifice, and the gives and takes between the three. Directed by Wang XiaoShuai, the film premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival and went on to win the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. This surprised me because the writing, though competent, is not the particular highlight of the film for me. The story is a simple one. We meet an ordinary family living in BeiJing, China: mother, father, single child. The mother is Mei Zhu (WeiWei Liu), a gentle woman with a polite demeanor who works for a realtor company. The father is only introduced as Lao Xie, or “Old Xie”, a kind of easy nickname reserved for those with kind eyes who always seem more like uncles rather than neighbours, played by TaiSheng Chen. The daughter is HeHe (pronounced “HerHer”), an adorable 5 year old played by ChuQian Zhang.

L to R: Lao Xie, Mei Zhu, HeHe

The first time we see HeHe she lies in bed, a ravenous cloud of hair splashed across the pillow, and we learn she has a fever. Mei Zhu and Lao Xie huddle over her and talk in quiet, short sentences between each other while trying to mask their panic. The fever has been going on for a while, and they are not sure whether they should go to the hospital. It is a low-key scene and not much is said, but the weight of illness looms heavy on the horizon, and are soon realized at the hospital. We see a long shot down a long corridor, where at its end a doctor in white coat speaks with Mei Zhu shortly, and then leaves. She reacts as a mother would. We never hear a word, nor do we see the expression on their faces, and she takes no more than a few steps, but it is more effective than many other hospital news-breaking scenes that provide all of the above. Our imagination paints more than we need to know. Everything lies in the unsaid.

HeHe has leukemia, and the story continues as it must. We meet Xiao Lu (JiaYi Chang), the biological father of HeHe. He and Mei Zhu have been divorced for four years, and the worse news possible forces a meeting between them. They are on polite terms, but we sense that the reunion is not something that either wishes for under any circumstances. History would have been best left unfaced.

Then, bad turns to worse. HeHe desperately needs a bone marrow transplant and both parents are no match. The best hope, the doctor advises Mei Zhu, lies in finding a match in a blood sibling of HeHe, and from that arises the drastic measure that forms the emotional heart of the story: having another baby to save her current one.

I took my time getting to this point, because the film takes its time too. Some reviews have lamented about the slow pace of the film, and I do agree to a certain extent — that the last third of the film could have been more emotionally sharpened and tightly edited. However, what I enjoyed about this film, and what I believe makes it work, is the patience it took to build up to the central dilemma of its characters. It is all the more important because we know that it is coming. We see it looming. And every second that ticks by winds our anxiety and adds to the sense of urgency, and makes the weight of that decision so much more torturous.  

So what happens? Xiao Lu has a new wife: Dong Fan (Nan Yu), a young flight attendant who is desperate to have a child of her own, and after knowing her, you understand. Lao Xie, Mei Zhu’s current husband, is in her words, “the best man that god has blessed me with.” He loves HeHe as his own, gently but firmly keeps Mei Zhu from falling apart, and is the glue of their family. Even HeHe has her own secret, which she reveals at a most unexpected time in the hospital, and capsizes the emotional guage in one man.

Love. Trust. Sacrifice. What is the correct way to juggle all three? What gives, and what takes? Mei Zhu loves HeHe the way a mother loves her daughter – fiercely, regretlessly, endlessly. Lao Xie loves HeHe the way a father loves his daughter – selflessly, wholeheartedly. Mei Zhu and Lao Xie love each other – quietly, deeply. None of these are exaggerated or even emphasized directly. There are only two scenes where Mei Zhu hugs HeHe, but both times she does it with such intensity that it is enough. Sometimes, the quietest cry is the strongest of all. WeiWei Liu deserved her win as Best Actress at the 2008 Pula Film Festival. TaiSheng Chen should have been nominated for his equally valuable portrayl.

What particularly stood out for me here is the use of symbols. The color red highlights a breathtaking climax towards the end of the film. Two different shades of red also dress the two women in Xiao Lu’s life in the scene immediately after: one a brighter shade, one a darker shade. One current, one past. Then there is the apartment that would never sell, that despite proper furnitures, somehow never fits the lives that pass through its doors. Then there are the cellphones, which though gimmicky in establishing one of the plotlines, seems to cry out an important point: sometimes we call our loved ones, and though we have the correct number, the call is never answered. Sometimes, we never meant to initiate the calls, and they are answered. Fate is fickle. So are its people.  

The film begins with a view from within a moving car (which for a moment, reminded me of a similar wordless scene in “Cache”). It moves silently down the streets. A voice calls out briefly: left. And then: right. We realize they are directions, yet we have no idea where they are going. In the end of the film, the same scene is repeated, and this time the context is clear: we know who are in the car, and we know where they are going. But…do they? And in the same vein…do we really? Left or Right, it only takes us down another street. The path is continous, and the destination is still unknown.

Love and trust, vague as they are, may be the only things that warm us, as we shed sacrifices along the way.

I received this film as part of my FilmMovement subscription, which I consider the best $12.50 a month I have ever spent.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2010 1:17 PM

    According to the IMDb, Primary Colors was renamed Perfect Couple in Japan, so the travesty goes both ways. One can only hope that Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter escapes unharmed.

    Grace: I agree. I have nothing against translations if it’s done true to the spirit of the film. It’s when that is overlooked in favor of marketing ploys that annoys me.

  2. Jeff permalink
    May 10, 2010 1:51 PM

    Great review, one of my favorite FilmMovement arrivals.

  3. Andy permalink
    May 10, 2010 2:05 PM

    “Left Right” would be a good enough translation, but how would you translate 《花样年华》?

    Grace: I’m actually fine with that one. “In the Mood For Love” is as best an English name for it as could be.

  4. DAG permalink
    May 10, 2010 6:24 PM

    It doesn’t lokk like Zip has this. What do I do? There’s a DVD rental store on Yonge just south of Finch, but I doubt they’ll have this.

    Grace: My local rental store has most FilmMovement films…maybe check around? UofT library also has almost anything. Email me if nothing turns up and you are really keen on seeing it.

  5. evnvnvnv permalink
    May 11, 2010 10:39 PM

    not to nitpick, but 左右 also has a number of idiomatic connotations, like “about, approximately,” “nearby,” “in the control of,” etc. I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know if any of this bears any relation to the actual content, but perhaps they chose the more… creative title because the literal translation didn’t preserve all of the other meanings of the phrase? (found your review via Ebert’s Twitter–sounds like a great film, and I doubt I would have heard of it otherwise, so thanks!)

    Grace: Yes, I know of those other connotations. They, in fact, only add to the symbolic meaning of the original title to the film. Mei Zhu actually uses the title 左右 in one of her lines to mean “being torn between left and right.”

  6. May 11, 2010 11:08 PM

    Those powerful hugs remind me of an old phrase my marketing professor gave us: when you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. For another example of this, see Late Spring. Setsuko Hara smiles constantly in that film, even in situations where the only sane response is grief or anger. When she finally frowns, it seems as though the whole house is pulled down around her. It’s devastating.

    Grace: You know that saying, the saddest thing is when they are pretending to be happy. Maybe that’s not an actual saying, but I always found that to be true, in life and in film.

    • May 12, 2010 7:35 AM

      And ‘keep smiling’ is an awfully cruel thing to say to an unhappy person.

      • Grace permalink*
        May 13, 2010 12:08 PM

        What else can you say to an unhappy person?

        Sometimes I think it’s easier to be the unhappy person instead of the friend. Man, at least you get to wallow in your unhappiness, waiting to be rescued.

      • May 13, 2010 4:10 PM

        I think I really should see this movie. One of the Queen Videos in Toronto likely carries it, eh? Or maybe all of them.

        Btw, there’s also a worthy video store near Church and Wellesley, called 24/7, that’s worth your browsing time. Their inventory of foreign films is more than decent, and they’ve got, by far, the best selection of silent films anywhere in Toronto. That’s not enticing to everyone, but it is to me.

        Grace: Thanks. Funny, I actually go to that one all the time :) They also carry most of the FilmMovement stuff, FYI.

      • May 13, 2010 6:42 PM

        Thanks for the tip! I’ll check it out tomorrow.

        If it’s not there, I can always rent Dead Snow.

  7. May 12, 2010 1:23 AM

    I was tearing up just watching the trailer.

    I agree, Grace. In Love We Trust is a horrible name for a film that works much better with its original title, Left, Right. Plus, it makes it sound like a cheesy romantic comedy that I wouldn’t want to see in a million years, rather than…well, what sounds like a pretty good movie.

    As for Grant’s comment about Primary Colors‘s title in Japan, they also renamed The House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu) as Lovers (ラブズ, I think is how they spelled it).

    Grace: Yeah, The House of Flying Daggers also makes no sense if you consider the original title, 十面埋伏, which is a coined phrase that hints at danger and hidden things from all directions – hard to translate, I know, but still, there’s no mention of “house” or “daggers”…they just threw it in!

    • May 12, 2010 7:46 PM

      True, but Lovers? Lovers?! Where did they get that title from? At least The House of Flying Daggers sounds cool. :-)

      Then again, the U.S. returned the favor by renaming Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi as Spirited Away (or Miyazaki’s Spirited Away). I’m not sure what all of the Japanese words mean, but I’m sure that they don’t translate as Spirited Away.

  8. May 13, 2010 1:34 AM

    I was thoroughly absorbed by this film from beginning to end. I wouldn’t ask for it to move any faster.

    I felt drawn into the lives of the characters, and agonized by their situation, both because of the slow pacing, and because of the very steady camerawork, the use of long camera shots with no unnecessary camera movement, just observing the characters, sometimes intimately, sometimes from a distance, always establishing a powerful sense of the rooms and exterior spaces where these weighty conversations were being held. (In this regard, I was also reminded of Cache.) The only moment when I perhaps felt pulled out of the film by the obvious workings of the plot machinery was the moment of the cellphone gimmick, but I can forgive this, given the subtlety and the honesty of everything else.

    I think what affected me most deeply was the character of Lao Xie. I find something heroic and almost inspiring in the way that he responds to this situation. TaiSheng Chen’s performance was exceptional.

    Grace: I feel the same. The cellphone was the only blemish for me…such a shame, but not a huge deal in the context of things. Chen was totally robbed! What a performance. Sometimes I think it’s even harder to play good and quiet, as oppose to bad and tormented.

  9. December 10, 2010 1:26 PM

    Hey very good article!!

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