Review: Encore Martha

Written and directed by Natasha K. Sung, dressed in a dashing suit, singing in a bar, and picking up younger women, Uncle Martha is going about her usual business when one day, she suddenly reconnects with her long-lost first love Mandy, the woman she continues to dream about at night. Starring: Tammy Lai and Wen Lin Fang.

Right from the start, the style of Encore Martha feels as though it reflects its titular character, there’s an old-fashioned edge blended with a romantic air. As time moves on it also brings through a touch of sadness and loneliness, unfulfilled desires. There’s a classic style to Natasha K. Sung’s direction, it holds a graceful simplicity but also holds a nice amount of movement. The atmosphere is subtle but effective, you can feel both the love and struggle in its aesthetic.

The story is one that’s familiar, a love lost but never let go and when the chance arises to rekindle it, it’s hard to resist. It dips its toe into homophobia and societal expectation, especially in exploring someone who chose to follow a more expected path and ignore their queer identity. As well as their experience then when trying to finally embrace who they are and finding they can’t flip that switch so easily. There’s also the opposite side of that coin, the lover left behind, spending a lifetime waiting, when all that does is harm yourself and sabotage your chance for happiness.

Tammy Lai captures that experience well as Martha, she brings that forced nonchalance to hide the heartbreak and unresolved issues that lie beneath the surface. Picking a life that allows you to be casual and non-committal, holding out hope that you’ll eventually get the love you want. Lai and Wen Lin Fang have a great chemistry, it’s strong from the second they appear together. It holds a sweet tone, almost making them feel like teenagers again. However, it ultimately feels like their complex journey is resolved too simply. There are a number of different facets to the story which go unanswered, and despite the best of intentions, its resolution feels slightly empty.

Encore Martha holds a sweet romance with a compelling and touching connection between Tammy Lai and Wen Lin Fang. It’s shot well, and builds an old-fashioned but stylish aesthetic which creates an understated but affecting atmosphere. It’s a good story, but it feels as though it lets itself down by not following through with a few more threads and wraps things up too neatly.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Reviewed as part of Queer East Film Festival 2022

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