(Joi Sun Ho)
Written By was Wai Ka Fais unique contribution to the genre of meta-fiction. This is a sub-genre concerned with the blurring of lines between reality and fiction where characters in fiction take on their own life or break the fourth wall, stepping out of or entering into books, or simply a work that seems to hold a self-awareness about the narrative that is being written. Examples of screen meta-fictional works include the likes of Providence (1977), The Singing Detective (1986), I, Madman (1989), Blackeyes (1989), The Baby of Macon (1993), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Adaptation. (2002), Stranger Than Fiction (2006), Synecdoche, New York (2008), Ruby Sparks (2012) and Goosebumps (2015). This author has coined the term meta-film to apply to works that involve meta-fiction using film rather than the written word. Examples here might include The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), The Icicle Thief (1989), Last Action Hero (1993), Wes Cravens New Nightmare (1994), Rubber (2010) and Camera Shy (2012).
Written By sets in with an ingenuity that proves positively mind-boggling. The film has a peculiar double structure that makes one think of a collision course between Passion of Mind (2000), which featured two Demi Moores both dreaming of the others life and unsure which was the real and which the dreamed, and Afraid of the Dark (1991), a double-structured film that also featured blind characters where the story conducted a mid-flip to show that one of these was a reality that existed inside the mind of one of the characters. Here we get one character, the blind Melody (Mia Yan) who is writing a novel where her late father (Lau Ching Wan) is still alive but blind and is then joined by their ghosts. In this reality, he in turn sets out to write a novel in which they are alive.
These two stands of story start to weave in and out of themselves in fascinating ways. There is a intriguing scene where the maid (Yeung Shuk Man) is about to quit when she is followed by someone urging her Sir has fallen and cant get up, and she becomes scared at being able to see the other woman where we realise in a sudden reversal of understanding that this is not someone trying to tell her something but the wife (Kelly Lin) having appeared as a ghost. It is the same tricks that Wai Ka Fai specialized in throughout Mad Detective and elsewhere the maintenance of perfect normalcy, while at the same time conducting changes of perception without any warning, frequently leaving us to work out what is going on. There is a genuinely magical scene a little later where the ghost wife realises their presence is causing problems and makes a cellphone call whereupon all the furniture in the apartment, including the couch with the sleeping Lau Ching Wan, flies up into the air, down the hallway, out the doors and across the city to relocate themselves in the graveyard where Lau wakes and goes about life as though nothing is any different, even though foliage and gravestones are now peeking in through where the walls and windows used to be.
The layers of meta-fiction eventually develop such a level of whiplash dexterity that I had difficulty following Written By. With Wai Ka Fais unobtrusive shifts of perception, we realise partway along that the story about the ghosts in the graveyard has something to do with the story the blind father is writing. By the time we venture into the afterlife and meet two different versions of Meng Por (alias Lady Meng, the character in Buddhist afterlife mythology who gives the newly dead the broth of oblivion before they go onto reincarnate) arguing over which versions of the characters are real and which fictional, or the ending that involves three different versions of the heroine all trying to jump off the roof, it becomes deeply confusing trying to follow which story we are in at any one particular time. The result becomes something akin to the ingenuity of Charlie Kaufmans Synecdoche, New York, which became mentally exhausting in the multiple layers of meta-fiction it kept winding the story inside. Even for the able witted, Wai Ka Fais approach leaves one behind. What you cannot disagree however is that Written By is a film that leaves one thinking, even if one ends up asking more questions than the film answers and that is more than can be said by most films that come out of Hollywood these days.
Full film available online here:-