“(Geoffrey) Nowell-Smith suggests that repressed emotions erupt in moments of high tension or drama and manifest themselves as symptoms through performance, music and mise-en-sce`ne and it is at such points of heightened emotion that the characteristic excesses of the melodrama manifest themselves.” (Shingler and Mercer, Melodrama, pp. 22-23)
As discussed in my blog on melodrama and its relation to My Father is a Hero, this film is essentially a melodrama. As stated in the quote at the beginning of this blog, one of the stylistic hallmarks of the traditional melodrama is that heightened emotion is externalised or manifested in the film’s performance and mise en scene. One of the set pieces in My Father that does this is the fight in the laneway in the rain beside the garbage bags. In this fight Kung (played by Jet Li) is shown to be desperately looking for his son’s body, only to be discovered by the film’s prime villain, Po (Yu Rong Guang) and his thugs. Kung’s frantic search for his son lets the audience know that he really cares for him (and we do need to know this after watching him apparently strangle his son in an earlier scene). Po and Kung come out into the open as being on opposite sides of the law and some unfinished alpha male antagonism (on Po’s side at least) that was initiated during their initial spar on the building ledge flares up but is not resolved during this fight – we have to wait until the final fight scene to see that.
Director Corey Yuen and his crew obviously had a lovely time playing with the lighting in this scene. Street lights and truck lights glisten and reflect beautifully in the rain drenched set. Full marks to Yuen, too, for finding such imaginative ways of staging fighting on, in and under a moving garbage truck. As I mentioned earlier in this blog (and in others I have written) Yuen has a gift for evoking the tactile sensations of his set, especially in his use of choreography and lighting. During this scene the fighters move through rain and the odd burst of vapour, use neon lights as weapons, dodge bullets that throw off sparks from metal, and are dragged along bitumen. In true melodramatic form, the mise en scene of this set is a manifestation of the psychological and emotional state of the characters. The setting is dark and rainy; evoking the gloom and despair that Kung is feeling, along with the fact that Po is a creature of the dark. As mentioned before, the garbage truck is a major part of the set (and even a performer in the choreography). Piles of garbage bags, lying heaped and shining in the dark wet night, are also an important component of the art direction. At this point of the film we have just seen a child apparently murdered, perhaps by his own father. Morally, Kung and his son (Xie Mao) have indeed been wading through garbage and Po probably couldn’t stoop much lower.