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Illustrative of Hong Kong cinema's current mannerist tendencies, Tsui Hark's The Lovers is a delirious, visually dazzling reinterpretation of an enduring Cantonese opera classic. Set in ancient China, this tearjerker proceeds rather like Yentl albeit with a tragic end: Zhu Ying-tai, disguised as a boy, enrolls at a mandarin academy where she gradually falls in love with a brilliant but poor classmate Liang San-pao. Before Liang discovers Zhu's true identity she's forced into an arranged marriage with the scion of a wealthy family. Reunited in death, the star-crossed couple triumphs over rigid social conventions and class prejudices, giving the story its central appeal. A 1963 film adaptation, which followed the operatic tradition of casting women as both leads, was a huge box-office hit and helped to assert Hong Kong's commercial supremacy in the Chinese-language film industry. In Tsui's lavishly produced version--complete with glittery sets and sumptuous costumes--his trademark agile camerawork and kinetic pacing heighten the sense of disoriented restlessness, of encroaching doom. Yet the stylistic excesses, while eminently watchable, at times teeter toward comic grotesquerie and ultimately diminish the tale's poignant poetry. With Wu Chi-lung and Charlie Young. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, March 18 and 19, 4:00, 443-3737.

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