When a smuggling job goes horribly wrong at the start of Patrick Tam’s 1989 Hong Kong classic My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, fates change sharply and the scene is set for a heady concoction of romantic pop cinema and incendiary violence.
The picture opens as carefree Rick Ma (Kenny Bee), his bargirl girlfriend Lap (Joey Wang) and her retired father Uncle Cheung (Kwan Hoi-shan) enjoy good times at a beachside cafe. But trouble brews when Rick and Uncle Cheung get roped into helping an illegal immigrant – the son of gang boss Law Man-shing – get into the city. After the immigrant gets shot in the job, Uncle Cheung is grabbed by Law’s men and Lap sees off Rick as he flees for the Philippines. What Rick doesn’t know is that Lap has been forced into a deal with menacing gangster Godfather Shen (Michael Chan): she’ll become Shen’s moll in exchange for her father’s protection.
Six years later, Lap is still with Shen and she’s being minded by meek junior triad Cheung (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), who has eyes for her. Lap earlier called off her relationship with Rick in a letter, yet she makes Cheung promise to help her escape with Rick if he ever reappears. When Rick indeed turns up in Hong Kong again, now working as a sharpshooting contract killer, Lap calls on Cheung for the favour. But getting away from Shen will be no simple task, and a nasty cycle of revenge is set in motion.
My Heart Is That Eternal Rose is screening as a special presentation in Far East Film Festival 20 with the attendance of film industry veteran John Sham, who became a key producer in the mid-1980s after starting out as both an actor and a magazine editor. After producing Patrick Tam’s supercharged 1987 gangland flick Final Victory, Sham once again supported the perfectionist director to realise a bold cinematic vision in this 1989 picture. Quick-moving and straight to the point, My Heart Is That Eternal Rose charts strong bonds and intense shootouts, and captures it all with finesse. Art direction is exemplary, and colourful and fluid lensing from Christopher Doyle and David Chung mean the imagery is a treat – first diffused and dreamy, then hard-edged as the situation escalates. And as in earlier works The Sword (1980) and Love Massacre (1981), Tam applies precise, rapid-fire editing to up the shock factor of the climax, here featuring a heroic battle against a well-armed horde of thugs.
Leading man Kenny Bee wasn’t known for tough-guy acting before My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, and Tam successfully eases the actor’s onscreen persona into courageous gunman mode as the plot unfolds. Joey Wang carries a strong, tortured role, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai charms in a sensitive performance that departs from screen gangster stereotypes. While the film’s box-office results were lacklustre, Leung’s part was lauded with Best Supporting Actor in the Hong Kong Film Awards and the movie has since gained must-see status among aficionados of Hong Kong cinema. Tam for his part put directing on hold after making My Heart Is That Eternal Rose and left fans hanging. It wasn’t until 2006 that finally he had a new picture out, in the form of the acclaimed father-son drama After This Our Exile.
A key figure in the Hong Kong New Wave cinema movement, Patrick Tam Kar-ming (b. 1948) joined the film industry via broadcaster TVB, where he gained attention for his bold and experimental approaches. His first feature as director was the wuxia film The Sword in 1980, and he followed it with two other New Wave classics, Love Massacre and Nomad, over the next two years. After 1989’s My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, Tam stepped away from directing, opting instead to edit the work of other filmmakers including Wong Kar-wai and Jeff Lau and taking up teaching in Malaysia and Hong Kong. Tam returned to directing with the award-winning 2006 film After This Our Exile.
1980 – The Sword
1981 – Love Massacre
1982 – Nomad
1984 – Cherie
1987 – Final Victory
1988 – Burning Snow
1989 – My Heart Is That Eternal Rose
2006 – After This Our Exile