My Heart is That Eternal Rose Image

My Heart is That Eternal Rose

By Perry Norton | May 16, 2024

My Heart is That Eternal Rose is a dramatic crime action masterpiece directed by Patrick Tam. It was written by Koon-Chung Chan and Kan-Cheung Tsang and released in 1989. Thanks to a 4K transfer from 35mm color negatives, it has started showing in repertory on big screens here and there after spending years available only as a poor transfer on disc. If you get a chance to see this at a cinema then run to do so. This is a high point for Tam, one of the trailblazers of the Hong Kong new wave in the 1980s. It shares some of the form of the John Woo “gun-fu” movies, which had just become wildly popular worldwide. But the gloomy and synth-laden story feels closer to Blue Velvet, not least because the film shares the identical element of a woman trapped by gangsters, singing for their pleasure. 

The story opens on a raucous beach bar at night. Rick (Kenny Bee) is smitten with Lap (Joey Wong), the daughter of bar owner and retired gangster Uncle Cheung (Hoi-san Kwan). Rick plays bar top shuffleboard and uses the winnings from the game to buy Lap a gold bracelet, which she successfully pretends not to want until he pretends to throw it out onto the darkened beach. This whole scene is a little miracle. The bar has the latent 1980s style of Miami Vice yet presents a portrait of stability and love. The crowd’s sherbet fashions and the balmy backdrop have an upbeat energy that resonates around the two young lovers like a world poised to grant all their romantic wishes.

Lap seeks the protection of Godfather Shen, becoming his concubine so he will protect her father…”

Then Cheung’s old triad boss, Big Brother Shing (Liu Gam), arrives. One of his idiot offspring needs to be smuggled into Hong Kong from the mainland, and Shing mistakes Cheung’s long-dormant trafficking skills as up for the job. He reluctantly agrees, taking Rick along for support. But the operation is such a disaster it starts a chain of events that enslaves our cast to the underworld. Lap seeks the protection of Godfather Shen (Wai-Man Chan), becoming his concubine so he will protect her father from the wrath of Shing and arrange to have Rick spirited away to the Philippines to hide out.

My Heart is That Eternal Rose was made when the return of Chinese rule to Hong Kong was imminent and it was released in theaters just weeks before the terrifying volte-face of Tiananmen Square. This change in epochs is not referenced directly but feels implied by the people smuggling plot and the theme of Lap sacrificing her freedom. Then there is the time jump. We rejoin the characters six years later, just as the machinery of the handover is earnestly kicking in. If it isn’t allegory, it ought to be.

My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989)

Directed: Patrick Tam

Written: Koon-Chung Chan, Kan-Cheung Tsang

Starring: Kenny Bee, Joey Wang, Tony Leung, Wai Man Chan, Hoi-San Kwan, Wai Man Chan, etc.

Movie score: 10/10

My Heart is That Eternal Rose Image

"…a very high point, not just for Hong Kong cinema but for cinema in general."

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