By Allison Lyzenga, My Film Habit
This film plays with the idea of how much one’s memories determine a person’s personality. If you forget everything about yourself–all the experiences you’ve been through, all your friends and family, or any old prejudices you may have held–are you really the same person anymore? And this film by Kit Hui, which follows the incredibly gorgeous, but amnesiac Wai as he wanders his town, revisiting old friends and sites from his past, would suggest that, no, you wouldn’t be the same person.
The hardest part about losing your identity like this would be the reaction you’d get from all your old friends and family–the people you once held dear, and with whom you may have once shared a very strong connection. These people are still going to expect you to behave in a certain way and react to things in the same way you once did, because they just can’t understand what it means for everything to be just gone.
But, more heartbreakingly, they’re not going to comprehend that they are essentially strangers to you now. Kit Hui says that he based the story in this film on a documentary he once saw about a young man who had similarly lost all memory of who he was and of anyone he had ever known–and I think I may also have seen the same documentary a few years ago.
If I’m thinking of the same film (Unknown White Male, by Rupert Murray), it is about a man from New York who suffered some sort of seizure, and had his memory wiped clean.
Well, he remembered a few things. He remembered everyday social conventions, and how to read and write. And his right hand still had the memory of signing his signature, even though his brain had completely forgotten his name. But he had forgotten all the people in his life, all his specialized education, and most significantly, that apparently he’d been a total a-hole in his past life.
He’d been one of those obnoxious New York guys who liked to hang out at night clubs with his investment banker friends, acting like total jerks to women. But, just like in Kit Hui’s film Fog, after the memory wipe, this man entered the world anew, and became a sweet, earnest guy. And he realized that after losing all these learned behaviors, he really had nothing in common with his “friends” anymore. I guess forgetting all the prejudices and grudges you’ve built up over a lifetime really does have a profound effect on one’s personality.
Fog does an excellent job of capturing Wai’s feelings of alienation from everyone he “knows”–from all these people who expect something from him. He feels like he owes them bankruptcy attorney phoenix because of the life they once shared, but they are essentially strangers to him now, and it would probably just be easier (and more fair) to just start fresh somewhere new.
The film ends on the perfect note of uncertainty. Because, Wai really doesn’t have any way of knowing what his new life will bring. He may well remember everything tomorrow, which would also bring back all of his bad traits which he was lucky to escape because of his illness. Or, he may continue to suffer from periodic memory wipes that would further hinder his attempts to rebuild his life. But, hopefully this is the start of a better kind of life for Wai. He’s been cleansed of all the ugliness he once lived and is given the rare opportunity to start over.
Allison Lyzenga writes about films on her website, My Film Habit.