Regret is often viewed as a weakness, a negative waste of emotion and time that should be spent moving forward. There’s a degree of truth to that of course, but sometimes the pained wish for a different past can fuel a person toward a better future.
Gigi (Miriam Yeung) is a travel agent yearning to see more of the world but married to a man whose work schedule consistently fails to align with hers. Worse, Pang (Jan Lamb) may also be cheating on her. Working through her emotions on the subject Gigi’s reminded of her high school days where the two met, and of the third person in their tight trio, So Bok-man (Ng Siu-hin).
Pang (Yao Hawk Sau) and So are already best of friends when young Gigi (Cecilia So) transfers to the school, but she quickly befriends both leading to the three of them spending time together, sharing interests, and finding affection. Both teenage boys are keen on her, but it’s the more gregarious Pang who seals the deal and triggers So’s disappearance from school. Resurfacing memories suggest she may have missed signs along the way and made the wrong choice all those years ago, and as she recalls more of their time in the past she races to reconnect with So in the present.
One of the strengths of writer/director Adam Wong’s film, She Remembers, He Forgets, is its recognition of mistakes without judgement. Everyone has past decisions they would do differently given the chance, and were this a fantasy film Gigi might get that opportunity, but it’s not so she’s stuck with her choices. The script, co-written by Saville Chan, instead explores her past actions through memory and her present efforts to make things right.
The balance of past and present never tips too heavily in one direction or the other, but our preference is almost guaranteed to be with the teens back in the ’90s. The film sets their choices and dramas against Hong Kong’s impending handover from the British to the Chinese, and while it never overdoes the comparison the observations are clear and add to the bittersweet nature of Gigi’s memories. Choices have been made, change is coming, and none of us will ever be the same again.
Performance-wise all of the players do good, affecting work, but it’s newcomer So who steals the show. Her chemistry between the boys reveals a sincere sweetness and a relatable energy, both connected through So’s infectious smile. She gives young Gigi heart and depth that translate beautifully to Yeung’s more mature and reflective performance as the adult looking back.
Both the characters and the back ’n’ forth between then and now carry viewers through to a satisfying, albeit perhaps unexpected, end, but the themes, ideas, and emotions will resonate long after the credits roll. Moments of quiet, subdued beauty exists among the plot turns and character beats including one softly rousing sequence featuring students flying wafer-thin foam gliders that exists as is but also as a reminder of the redemptive power of regret.
She Remembers, He Forgets is interested in the promises we make ourselves and each other, and while it never judges us for failing to follow through it does suggest that it’s never too late to try – at least, until it is.
NYAFF 2016 runs June 22nd through July 9th