Review: Lose yourself in the adult animation pleasures of ‘No. 7 Cherry Lane’

A richly textured interior scene in "No. 7 Cherry Lane."
The characters in “No. 7 Cherry Lane” live richly textured lives.
(Far Sun Film Co Ltd.)

Dense with literary and classic cinema references, “No. 7 Cherry Lane” is veteran Hong Kong director Yonfan’s first foray into adult animation. Intellectually intoxicating and stylistically sumptuous, this romantic oddity about the passage of time (for an individual and for a country) evokes the grand elegance of a Wong Kar-wai epic infused with mature droplets akin to anime like “Belladonna of Sadness” or “Millennium Actress.”

Lusted after by men and women alike, dashing university student Ziming (Alex Lam) arrives at the eponymous address to tutor teenager Meiling (Zhao Wei) in English. But Ziming finds himself in an undemonstrative affair with his student’s cultured Taiwanese mother, Mrs. Yu (Sylvia Chang), based on their mural interests, e.g. Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.” As homage to the stamping grounds of his youth, Yonfan sets the heady love triangle in 1967 Hong Kong, at the time still a British colony at odds with Chairman Mao’s post-revolution China.

Poignant, though occasionally overpowering narration drives the sensual plot concentrated on Mrs. Yu’s fears about dating someone a few decades her junior. Her desire for Ziming is conflated with the notion that life has passed her by. Once a politically involved person, she has become part of the establishment she fought.

Convinced this entanglement can’t last, she finds validation in actress Simone Signoret’s movies featuring similarly age-disparate relationships. In her melancholic contemplations and eventual conclusions, Yonfan creates the convergence between the past (Mrs. Yu), the present (Ziming) and the future (Meiling).

A riverside scene in "No. 7 Cherry Lane."
Richly handcrafted backgrounds lend dimension to “No. 7 Cherry Lane.”
(Far Sun Film Co Ltd.)

Handcrafted backgrounds with exquisite production design host characters first created as 3-D figures and then hand-drawn. Their stilted, languidly paced movements will surely throw off audiences accustomed to more fluidity — as will a jarringly positioned but purposeful musical interlude — even if the unnatural choice relates to the film’s thematic infatuation with treasuring fleeting moments. But with so much to appreciate here in its poetic use of the medium, that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Sexually explicit, surrealist sequences push “No. 7 Cherry Lane” even further into territory best suited for the most intrepid. Nevertheless, those willing will discover that what Yonfan creates inside Mrs. Yu’s abode leaves a sultry impression, like a consciousness-altering dream whose meaning is not meant to be entirely clear but one can’t help to ruminate on.

In Mandarin, Cantonese, French, and Shanghainese with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hour, 5 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Theaters virtual cinema