It is odd how one can stumble upon a certain film. Sometimes all the posters, teasers, trailers and good reviews in the world can't get me to watch a film, other times all I need is a quick glance at a single image to get fully hooked. Such was the case with Wai Man Yip's Fate. I can't even remember where I saw it, but after bumping into the poster online I just knew I had to see it. I didn't bother to find out more about the plot, director or cast and went in with no expectations. Just a single hope that Fate would prove worthy of its promotional artwork.
When the credits started rolling I was sure I'd caught a film of a débutante director. Fate is filled to the brim with all sorts of themes and ideas, mixing several visual styles, blending in animation and trying to do and show so many things at once that it could hardly be anything but a first-time effort. Imagine my surprise when I found out the film was directed by Wai Man Yip, veteran director and partly responsible for the recent mega production Warlords. I guess he found himself a second youth as further inspection of his earlier films uncovered a distinctive lack of experimental and conceptually heavy films.
Fate holds many of the issues of a real debut film. Yip is aiming to tell and show so many things that the audience is often left grasping for air. The films blends our reality with a fantasy world and it takes a good while before the rules of the the mixed worlds are understood. To get to that point you have to take a fair few things for granted and let yourself be swept by the flow of the film. The premise of the film tells of a street where kids under the age of 20 can escape their current lives. Everyone has a chance to enter, but once they do, they are forbidden to leave. The finer mechanics of this world are still a little vague to me, but that is the gist of it. And I'm sure this is also a lovely metaphor, but since I was more than busy enough trying to get a grip on the film I had little time left to try and figure that one out.
Fate starts with a lovely piece of animation, illustrating the search of a princes for her loved one. This search is then continued in the real world, where we find the writer transforming her own quest into the fairytale. As the main story arc continues, the fairytale grows with it and from time to time the film takes a little breather to recap the story through simplified animated bits. Though the animation is very basic, the drawings are cute and atmospheric and the animated segments form a nice diversion. In between these short animated sequences, the film is divided into several chapters, the first four introducing each one of the main characters, the final ones handling the outcome of their coming together. Add to that a fair few flashbacks and flash forwards and you'll start to realize how convoluted this film really is.
Visually this film is quite something else too. There are of course the animated parts that set it aside a little (though slipping in some animation seems to be in fashion nowadays), apart from those the film has a very definite visual style. It is obvious that Yip didn't have much of a budget to go on, but for the greater part he hides it remarkably well. There are some really ugly smoke effects though, yet ignoring those for a minute, I was never bothered by the use of CGI, at some times it even managed to impress me. The lighting plays an important role too, with lots of flashy greens and purples to give the fantasy world a unique and bold atmosphere. Overall the film is very nice to look at, lots of energetic camera work, great shots from crazy angles and some imaginative use of computer graphics.
The soundtrack is nice too, though it could've been a little bolder to flow better with the visual side of things. At its very core the film's a romance and the soundtrack mimics that, with softer, more timid music. There are some action scenes where the score picks up a little, but as a whole the soundtrack felt a bit underused, or at least not in line with the extravagant choices made elsewhere. On the other hand, it did help to keep the film at least a little under control. Only real weak point of the film is the acting. Even though the actors have pretty hard parts to fill, setting their characters somewhere between regular people and fantasy creatures, they become a little flaky and never seem to find the right balance between the two opposites.
Whether you'll like Fate or not is highly dependent on how you feel about its shortcomings. To me, they hardly mattered as Wai Man Yip succeeds in creating something that feels very fresh and unique, looks great and leaves something mysterious behind. It's the main reason why I'm usually fond of debut films, as they are often radiant, full of energy and vision. If you are looking for a more structured film and tailored film, Fate is probably one to skip. I would definitely recommend it to the more adventurous viewer, even though this film won't please all for sure. I'm still surprised that Yip was able to make this film so far into his career as a director, and I wonder what drove him to make this one.
Somehow Fate is greatly overlooked and information is sparse, even on the web. And even though Fate is pretty much a mess of a film, there is plenty here to appeal to the adventurous film fan.