‘No. 7 Cherry Lane’ Review: A Heady Daydream in 1967 Hong Kong
As sumptuous as it is odd, “No. 7 Cherry Lane” is an exercise in harnessing nostalgia for innovation. The first animated film from the director Yonfan is a deeply eccentric chronicle of a forbidden affair in 1960s Hong Kong, as the spirit of Mao Zedong’s anti-imperialist, communist revolution arrives in what was still a British colony. Fan Ziming, a beguiling English literature student, becomes embroiled in a knotty love triangle between Mrs. Yu, a divorced Taiwanese exile and former revolutionary who now deals in luxury goods, and her daughter Meiling, a nubile 18-year-old student taking English lessons from Ziming.
At times, “No. 7 Cherry Lane” unfolds as a hallucinatory daydream, flowing with starry-eyed voice-over narration: “Look how the golden years flowed away,” reads the opening title card, as the narrator describes the time as an “era of prosperity amidst simplicity.” The Hong Kong of 1967 is rendered in rich detail through pencil on rice paper, with radiant color blooming onscreen, illustrations of bustling streets and movie theaters constituting the film’s universe. There are cerebral, erudite dialogues about Proust, French art films and classic Chinese literature that drive the liaisons at its center. The animation is often slow-moving — figures shuffle stiffly across the screen as they muse about art and philosophy, a choice that may challenge viewers accustomed to more fluid gestures. But the approach contributes to the film’s thematic commitment to nostalgia and adds a quiet elegance and slow-paced intimacy to each scene.
Fortunately, “No. 7 Cherry Lane” transcends pure wistfulness or intellectual indulgence. The film embraces a lovely surreal sensibility that bleeds through all of its details: puffs of smoke wafting off a theater screen into the characters’ world; a clowder of cats explaining Hong Kong’s floor-numbering practices; effervescent, jarring synth pop soundtracking the peak of a violent protest. These details seem minor, but they infuse an otherwise heady film with heart and levity. The movie’s bizarre and sexually explicit dream sequences, which include the abduction of a Taoist nun and Ziming being pleasured by a cat, further illustrate the film’s enigmatic quality — but they also prevent it from becoming a simple trip down memory lane. Consider this film a master class in world-building, a bewildering but poignant dream — one that will leave you with plenty of burning questions.
No. 7 Cherry Lane
Not rated. In Mandarin, Cantonese, French and Shanghainese, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. Watch on Criterion Channel.
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