' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: An Autumn's Tale (1987)

Friday, May 17, 2024

Friday's Old Fashioned: An Autumn's Tale (1987)

“An Autumn’s Tale” begins with Jennifer (Cherie Chung) on a plane from Hong Kong to New York where she is set to attend college and catch back up with her boyfriend, Vincent (Danny Chan). En route, she flashes back to scenes with her family, going through assorted totems and photographs, which they talk about not in terms of the past but the present, and the future. In other words, Jennifer is planning to simply transport her Asian life to America. Upon arrival, however, she is greeted by distant relative Samuel Pang, aka Sampan, aka The Figurehead, aka Figgy (Chow Yun-fat) who gives her a ride home in his beat-up car that transforms into a comical on-the-road confrontation with a motorist that cuts him off, leaving Jennifer cowering and screaming in the passenger seat. Welcome to America! Soon, she discovers Vincent is cheating on her, leaving her alone, poor, in a ramshackle Chinatown apartment that would have a view of the Brooklyn Bridge if the window wasn’t boarded up. In one sequence she moves through various pedestrians on a graffiti-filled sidewalk as if they are not even there, that feeling every big city dweller has known, when you’re somehow so deep inside your own mind nothing around you registers and yet you are as far away from yourself as you have ever felt.

Eventually, Jennifer is made to feel at home by Figgy, brought to vivid life by Chow Yun-fat as a loudmouth who nevertheless loudly effuses love. When Figgy happens upon Jennifer at a small Chinese restaurant eating nothing but an egg sandwich, he sits down and orders them both a feast, embodying the idea of Chinese community forged through food. And that is what “An Autumn’s Tale” is about above all, more than their fledgling romance, and even their respective personal crises, friendship and community and how that helps sustain an immigrant’s experience. It’s telling how despite an American setting, most of the movie is in Chinese, suggesting how Jennifer and Figgy make a place for themselves in America, and how that melting pot sensation is not only distinctly American but distinctly New York. I kept hearing the old intro to the Late Show with David Letterman in my head: “From New York, the greatest city in the world.” Indeed, “An Autumn’s Tale” is an immigrant movie, but it is also a New York movie, as much as any Woody Allen joint, one that continually splits the difference between reality and fairytale, between Figgy’s broken-down beater and a handsome cab, between the Mets and the Yankees. (In one scene, Figgy sports a Mets cap, delineating his allegiance.) And if Jennifer can’t see the Brooklyn Bridge from her window, then Figgy just paints that cable-stayed suspension connector between Manhattan and Brooklyn and puts the painting in front of the window instead.

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