Poor pacing and amateurish animation diminish the potential charm of Yonfan’s romantic drama.
I’ve largely enjoyed this year’s London East Asian Film Festival. Maybe it’s because they had to cherry pick movies to screen during their incredibly short 3-day run and there was less room for the usual crazy, baffling shit like Human, Space, Time and Human and Three Husbands. As much as I hated both of those films (I never even wrote about the former), they are always fun to rant about or discuss over coffee. This year, I was afraid that they skipped this tradition altogether. Turns out they just saved it for last.
Ziming is a university student and private English tutor who finds himself in the middle of the love trangle of sorts with his student Meiling and her mother Mrs Yu, who watches a lot of movies and lives vicariously through the one actress that plays in every film she sees. Done. Synopsis over. For a 2 hour+ movie it certainly doesn’t have a lot of meat. But it certainly had a lot of trippy out-of-nowhere coocoo bananas moments. No. 7 Cherry Lane is something like In the Mood for Love by way of The Graduate but with a few cells from Yellow Submarine thrown in for good measure. I’m not super sure what the point of it all was, to be honest.
This isn’t necessarily a bad mix. A slow-paced drama filled with surreal moments and crazy visuals is basically the formula for Takeshi Kitano movies, after all. I might have liked No. 7 Cherry Lane more if it wasn’t for the one thing that bothered me throughout: it all moves so damn slowly. And I don’t mean the pacing of the film – that’s largely fine as it is. I mean that everything literally moves at a snail’s pace. It moves like the animation team had no idea what they were doing. There was a trick I was taught in my first year studying animation: whatever you animate, play it back at 1.5x speed, and see how it looks. Nine times out of ten it’ll look smoother and more realistic. And the production team really needed to have done that here. Not only would the movement not look sluggish but it would have cut the film down from its currently bit-too-long 127 minutes.
Rant aside, the art style, character design and background art are all actually quite nice and at times rather beautiful. I love the way it changes when a dream sequence or fantasy happens. Sure it’s a bit odd that there are only two style-altering fantasies, which does make them stand out less as striking moments of whimsy and more as thematically jarring sequences. But they did at least justify the medium of animation there. But that doesn’t excuse it as No.7 Cherry Lane would look so much better and be infinitely more palatable if it was just a collection of storyboards or still images. Hell, you’ll have a better time just listening to the soundtrack.
In making the movie so visually dull all we can do is focus on the story but unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot to it that we haven’t seen done better elsewhere. It mashes tones together and hopes for the best, in what feels like director Yonfan wanted to make a Ghibli-style drama but realised he could do literally anything in animation and just threw in some bullshit because he could. I honestly struggled to make heads or tails as to why anything that happened did. Was there a reason it was set in the 60s? What purpose did Mrs May and her butler have? Does everyone in that building just have a huge boner for Ziming? It’s honestly just too strange for what should otherwise have been a straightforward period romance.
No. 7 Cherry Lane could have been so much better. Even if the animation sucks it’s very clearly a labour of love, and the rest of the production – from the gorgeous score to the ensemble voice cast – isn’t half bad at all. Even some of the animation, notably the faster-moving moments and anything that isn’t human movement, is pretty decent at times (faint praise, I know). It’s a shame that the story is a bore, and the whole thing just drags on like it does. When your watch face becomes more interesting than the infinite possibilities offered by the medium of animation, it makes you wonder why it wasn’t done in live action instead. Well, I guess it would have been trickier to film that erotic cat scene.
Verdict: No. 7 Cherry Lane is a perfectly fine period movie that bafflingly misuses its medium and honestly would have been better if, well, it didn’t move.
Overall entertainment: 5/10
Sex: An awkward 5/10
Weird shit: 6/10
Ziming hanging dong: 10/10
Horniness: 10/10. This movie needs a cold shower.
Erotic animal scenes in dramas: Honestly I still preferred the catfish bit from Uncle Boonmee
Political backstory: Oh yeah, I completely forgot
No. 7 Cherry Lane (2019)
Also known as: : 繼園臺七號; jìyuántái qīhào
Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese
Sylvia Chang – Mrs Yu
Zhao Wei – Meiling
Alex Lam – Ziming
Kelly Yao – Mrs May
Natalia Duplessis – Madame Simone