Uncertain Relationships Society ★★★★½

I was very excited to see director Heiward Mak and her production company had made this available on YouTube earlier this month. It was one of my favorite films from the Vancouver Film Festival, and the one I liked that no one else I knew had seen. Now people would finally get the chance to see what they'd missed. But unfortunately, it turns out the the version posted is the TV series cut of the film, which is not nearly as good.

During the festival Q & A, Mak said there were actually three cuts of the film. A 118-minute feature version, to play in festivals (it played in San Francisco's Hong Kong mini-festival as well); a longer, two-part miniseries version; and a shorter, five-episode TV version. The YouTube version is this third cut, with the episodes all run together, complete with opening and closing credits and "previously on" and "next time on" montages every 25 minutes or so. That alone would be enough to make the experience of watching it arhythmic, but it also appears to have been reedited and (I think) partially re-scored.

What had been a delicately-woven network-narrative winding back and forth across 6 years in the life of eight 20-something Hong Kongers is made much more conventional, with character and relationship arcs more isolated within individual episodes, which has the effect of making the stories both more conventional and more choppy. It seems designed to fit more fully the generic expectations of TV melodrama (five minutes into every episode there's a bit of slow-motion, with characters frolicking leading to one looking wistfully at the other), with the faster pace the stories become less nuanced, more banal. The emotional buildup more manufactured. New juxtapositions between scenes and dialogue (and score, so repetitive in the first few episodes) make themes more explicit, tilting what had been a refreshingly earnest romance distressingly close to the edge of cornball sophistry.

It's possible that was already there to begin with, and that for whatever reason I just happened to fall under the film's spell at the festival and overlooked its shortcomings. That's not unusual in that kind of environment at all. Hopefully the festival version will make it out there, though Mak has said it won't get an official release.