CAAM Fest 2016
Set in Hong Kong, Jasmine (2015) is a thriller about an enigmatic loner. After suffering a traumatic loss, Leonard To (Jason Tobin) drifts between his support group for victims of violent crime and attempts at social interaction. Awkwardly making conversation with an Australian couple at a pub, they leave when his small talk about sports teams fails to break the ice. The strange young man has a story, but they don’t care to hear what it is.
An old friend named Grace (Eugenia Yuan) is sympathetic to his plight but wary of getting dragged down, again. Yuan is excellent as the loyal but conflicted Grace. A rare bright spot and an excuse for them to celebrate is Leonard’s new job. Even that is a downgrade from the one he was let go from. The Hong Kong police have lost interest in his case. Consumed by grief and survivor’s guilt, he returns regularly to the spot where Jasmine, his great love, lost her life at the hands of an unknown perpetrator. When he spots a man hanging around, he begins to hunt him on his own. There’s a grim satisfaction for Leonard in that he finally has an outlet for his simmering rage.
The ominous score by Shie Rozow with source music by Lisa K. Fowle, contrasts with a city that’s lovely to look at and beautifully shot by cinematographer Guy Livneh. First time director Dax Phelan also wrote the screenplay and produced [He was an associate producer of Paul Schrader’s The Canyons (2013)]. Phelan acknowledges his debt to Alfred Hitchcock. As in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1942) and Strangers on a Train (1951), contrasting doubles play an important part in Jasmine. Though the doubling extends to even the repeated music cues, the film’s most obvious pairing is of Leonard and his doppelgänger, the man he begins pursuing, played by Byron Mann (The Big Short (2015). Leonard’s twin is his seeming opposite, wealthy and successful with beautiful women. Donald Spoto writes: “Hitchcock took the device of the doppelgänger, the ghostly double of a living person who simultaneously haunts and illuminates him.”
Educated in Hong Kong, Tobin also studied in England where his father’s family originates. Phelan wanted to make a film in his adopted city with Tobin as the lead so they cowrote the story. At the festival, Tobin commented that he wanted to show Hong Kong’s English speaking world of Eurasians and expatriates that’s rarely represented. In the film, Leonard speaks Cantonese with the natives but is more comfortable with English. Asian Americans, Asian Australians and Malaysia born Canadian Sarah Lian are part of the international cast.
Tobin has the androgynous looks and a dreamy quality that appropriately brings to mind the young Anthony Perkins. Nothing could have fit the character of Leonard better. Phelan’s film school mentor aptly described Jasmine as Vertigo meets Psycho. While Psycho has moments of dark humor that alleviates the tension, Jasmine is even more unrelenting. As with Hitchcock’s films, the clues to the mystery are difficult to discern on a first viewing. Jasmine is a film you’ll want to see and see again.
Editor: Chris Chan Lee [Yellow (1998)] Executive Producers: Nicole Watson, Jon Anderson