In the compelling drama “Fog,” Wai (Terence Yin) is a young man in Hong Kong whose memory was erased by amnesia. It is not clear just how this came about, nor is it certain whether he will be able to regain his capacity to remember. His attempts to link back to what he cannot recall inevitably fail to ignite distant memories – wandering through his old high school and watching videos from his late teen years generates nothing in the way of recognition or nostalgia.
Wai’s life, at the moment, is an uneventful situation. He lives with his widowed mother and teenage sister in a cramped apartment, and he works as a lighting assistant in a photographic studio. A high school pal who works as a bartender keeps him supplied with free drinks and cigarettes, and occasionally invites him to join drug parties. Yet Wai’s inability to reconnect with his past keeps him at a numb distance with his surroundings – his friends, family and employer accept his condition, and no one seems anguished over his state. However, Wai’s accidental discovery of a significant event from years earlier causes him to realize that those around him may prefer that he stay with an erased memory.
Giving away the nature of Wai’s discovery would ruin the deceptively placid nature of Kit Hui’s first feature-length film. What can be said, however, is that the film provides a cogent commentary on how people interact with each other. Wai’s state of amnesia serves as a human blank slate on which his family, friends, previous acquaintances and employers project their own emotions and neuroses. Yin’s remarkable physical presence beautifully captures the isolation that Wai feels – his gaze is a subtle mix of confusion, despair and fading optimism, while those circling around him continually overcompensate in their reactions to his seeming stoicism.
The story also takes place against a backdrop of the 10-year-anniversary celebrations of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control after being a British crown colony. This setting offers a subtle comparison to the territory’s willingness to forget its British past while trying to make sense of its current identity. The film’s production design also plays up the flashy and somewhat garish nature of Hong Kong’s visual style against Wai’s state of monochromatic emotions. An appropriately elusive music score by Amiina carefully floats through the film at key moments, further reflecting the opaque imbalance of the central character.
One word of warning: “Fog” takes a while before it becomes evident where the film is heading. But once it reaches its destination, the result is positively devastating.