My Prince Edward is presided over by star Stephy Tang and director Norris Wong, both of whom reject schematism in favor of more subtle, surprising work.
No pop star acts quite like Stephy Tang. Most singers who turn to movies carry some kind of flamboyance with them, a projection from the stage that seems slightly oversized on screen, or a kind of emotionality more akin to a torch song than the slow burn of the Method. But Tang, who rose to fame as the leader of the 2000s teen pop group Cookies, is a resolutely quiet performer on-screen. In her award-winning turn in Chapman To’s The Empty Hands, her performance is almost wordless, her impassive demeanor never really changing, but we feel every bit of her character’s depression and determination. All the charisma and charm of the pop star is there, but we can only sense it because she refuses to give us the visual or aural cues we associate with pop singers (think Faye Wong’s big manic pixie eyes in Chungking Express, or Madonna’s campy purrs in Dick Tracy). It’s something like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water: though only the cool, metal sheen is visible, we can nonetheless feel the churning behind it. We keep waiting for the star to emerge, and while she never does, the wait is riveting.
Tang’s performance in Norris Wong’s My Prince Edward is very much the same, and in its depths we find the confounding state of the modern Hongkonger, trapped between East and West, tradition and future, in an apartment far too small and much too expensive for anyone to live in comfortably. Making her feature debut, Wong maps this predicament onto a kind of love triangle centered on Tang, who works at a bridal boutique with her boyfriend, a casually, but not cruelly, possessive Westernized man who wants to get married. But Tang, to her distress, learns that she is already married: ten years before she married a Mainlander in a sham designed to earn him a residency permit. They were supposed to then be divorced, but the agency in charge never processed it. The man still needs his permit, and he and Tang reunite to try to get their various paperworks in order without Tang’s fiancé finding out.
The scenario has all the makings of a romantic comedy, but Wong and Tang jettison all of the romance, and most of the comedy, in favor of a mood of frustrated despair. Not particularly fond of either of her options, any action Tang takes is seemingly reluctant. A clear set of steps are laid out for her to achieve her goal, but ever ambivalent, she complains every step of the way about having to do anything. The triangle doesn’t map exactly schematically onto the geopolitical state of Hong Kong — Wong is more subtle a filmmaker than that — but despite all the twists and turns in Tang’s loyalties, there is a seething rage at this woman’s inability (and at times unwillingness) to define her own path in life that is keenly palpable.
You can stream Norris Wong’s My Prince Edward on Vimeo On Demand beginning on December 15.
Originally published as part of NYAFF 2020 — Dispatch 1.