On the eve of the transfer of power over Macao to the People’s Republic of China, a police officer finds himself in the throes of a dreadful crisis – both in his career and in his private life. Already thrown off course for having been suspended on a corruption charge, shortly afterwards, he has an encounter that completely changes his life. Hoping to compensate for his failed career, Shing seeks comfort in the arms of a young girl. He has no more than a one-night stand in mind when he approaches this young woman. but when he gently tries to persuade her to go to bed with him, he is more than surprised at her rebuff. For this elf-like creature named Yan confronts him with the most astonishing news conceivable.
A novel and intimate father-daughter drama blossoms in Pang Ho-cheung’s Isabella, a story set during the turbulent lead-up to Macau’s return to China in 1999.
Troubled and womanising cop Shing (Chapman To) sees his life take a sudden turn when a girl he’s slept with, Yan (Isabella Leong), says she’s actually his daughter. The teenager isn’t bothered about any incestuous turn of events, however – she just wants to raise enough cash to pay her rent and free a dog from her locked-up flat. When it turns out her landlord has turfed her pet out onto the street, and that her mother had died a year earlier, Yan moves in with Shing and their relationship awkwardly starts to build.
The spirited comedy and restless handheld camerawork of Pang’s earlier work makes way for a more measured, atmospheric approach in Isabella. Although his comic touch isn’t entirely abandoned here, and a thematic undercurrent about men’s sexual exploits not going to plan is continued, the movie’s overall stylistic departure and its focused, sensitive treatment contribute to a satisfying change of direction.
Macau provides a fine setting for the drama, the former Portuguese enclave’s modern skyscrapers and residential towers kept out of the picture as the narrative unfolds in older quarters. Musical cues take after the European flavour of the locale with the arrangements fitting the summertime warmth and pacing to a tee. Young actress Isabella Leong displays considerable range in her first leading dramatic role, exuding a rough edge and displaying believable emotion, and Chapman To (who co-produced with Pang) capably departs from his best-known comedy work with a low-key performance.