By: Kim Regala, Peak Associate
After a long 10-year hiatus, Hong Kong director Yonfan returns to filmmaking with No. 7 Cherry Lane, his first animated film. Presented in the recent Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), No. 7 Cherry Lane takes us through a captivating love triangle between a young college boy and the mother and daughter that he falls for. As it is set in 1967 Hong Kong, the story pays homage to a crucial moment of political uprising between the Chinese and British. Through the film, Yonfan paints a beautiful portrait of the city that well encapsulates the atmosphere and sentiments of this historical moment in Hong Kong.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of No. 7 Cherry Lane is its unique animation style. Typically, a film only incorporates one type of animation, whether it’s classically hand-drawn, computer-generated, or even stop motion. Yonfan breaks this common mould to combine two traditional techniques. On the one hand, all of the background imagery appears hand-sketched or water-coloured, remaining motionless throughout each scene. This creates a rather Old-World aesthetic that is reminiscent of traditional Chinese paintings. On the other hand, the characters inherit a more modern animation style that is similar to the anime we see today. A film review from Hollywood Reporter describes this as “the result of a labour-intensive animation technique in which animators rendered caricatures in 3D before hand-drawing them in 2D.” As a result, we get a desirable contrast between the main subjects that hold our gaze and the world around them that feels frozen in time.
Continuing the unconventionality in Yonfan’s style is the overall slowness of the movement on-screen. While this could feel slightly frustrating for viewers anticipating a fast and action-packed film, this unique approach adds to the mummified effect of the world unfolding before our eyes. In a way, it allows us to truly pay attention to the details within the scenes and further immerses us into this particular time period in Hong Kong.
Being an animation and all, you may think that the film is rated PG by default — but be warned, there is nothing family-friendly about No. 7 Cherry Lane. Grounded by its love triangle narrative about a man who fancies two women, many of the scenes depict sexual fantasies and toe the line between dream and reality. Without a doubt, the film’s narrative holds a strong male gaze that caters towards the objectification of women’s bodies (and yes, there IS nudity involved). Even the scenes that center around female fantasies still feel as if they are meant to primarily have an erotic feel for male viewers. While moments like these did make me feel slightly uncomfortable as a female viewer, I still couldn’t help but appreciate the creativity in Yonfan’s presentation of these dream-like sequences that garnered an almost psychedelic influence. Additionally, his bold move of expressing sexual and provocative themes is largely admirable considering that Asian cinema as we know it is known for being more conservative than Western productions.
Despite catering towards the male gaze, I still found No. 7 Cherry Lane to be an impressive film that deserves great recognition beyond just the Asian audience that is familiar with the film’s language and culture. While it is a story that draws from Hong Kong’s revolutionary past, it can also serve as a mirror to the protests against China that are still happening in the present. Its imaginative animation style alone makes the film stand out from previous works, but it is especially this aspect of political awareness that separates it from the others.