Don't Go Breaking My Heart 單身男女
Contemporary romantic comedy
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 115 mins
Directed by Johnnie To (杜琪峰)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 25 March 2011, 23:32 PM (HKT)
An entertaining but shallow rom-com from Johnnie To that doesn't really engage the emotions. Beyond Asia, genre events, on strength of To's name.
Hong Kong, autumn 2008, just prior to the international banking crisis. On a bus to work, investment bank analyst Cheng Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) bumps into her former boyfriend Owen (Terence Yin), with whom she'd lived for seven years and had come to Hong Kong from China. Owen is with his heavily pregnant wife (Selena Li), who freaks out and forces Zixin to leave the bus. Driving alongside, investment bank CEO Cheung Shen-ran (Louis Koo) observes the whole scene, as well as Zixin subsequently being saved by raggedly alcoholic Fang Qihong (Daniel Wu) from being run down in the street. Shen-ran's office is opposite Zixin's, and the pair start a remote friendship signalling to each other through their windows. Meanwhile, Zixin later bumps into Qihong, who turns out to be a top architect who's on the skids, and the two also become friends. She urges him to stop drinking and get back to work, and they agree to meet in a week's time. Zixin forgets the appointment when Shen-ran invites her out for a drink the same evening, but also finds herself stood up when he casually beds a western woman, Angelina (Larisa Bakurova), who works in the office above Zixin's. Next day, Zixin bawls him out, and that evening the news of Lehman Bros. filing for bankruptcy ruins Shen-ran's business. Three years later, Shen-ran suddenly reappears in her life as Asia-Pacific CEO of the bank she works for. He starts a major charm offensive to win her back but she turns down his marriage proposal as he can't promise always to be faithful. When a reformed and successful Qihong turns up again in Zixin's life, Shen-ran realises he has a serious competitor.
After almost two years purely producing, Johnnie TO 杜琪峰 returns to the directing chair with Don't Go Breaking My Heart 單身男女 (2010), his first movie since gangster tale Vengeance 復仇 (2009) and his first rom-com since Yesterday Once More 龍鳳鬥 (2004). Despite smooth direction which makes the film painless to watch, and a charming performance by Mainland actress GAO Yuanyuan 高圓圓 — as a woman who can't decide between a charming fox (Louis KOO 古天樂) and a nice lamb (Daniel WU 吳彥祖) — it's at least a notch below To's best rom-coms, with none of the emotional undertow of Yesterday (with its great chemistry between Andy LAU 劉德華 and Sammi CHENG 鄭秀文 or the clever plot-twists of the Taiwan-set Turn Left, Turn Right 向左走・向右走 (2003).
This being one of To's collaborations with his Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd 銀河映像（香港）有限公司 partner WAI Ka-fai 韋家輝, the movie comes equipped with a typically Wai-like high concept: the threesome signalling to each other through office windows with loving signs and written messages, which (along with camera-phones) often convey more emotion than when the principles meet face to face. (In this respect, the film seems like a feature-length development of Australian director Patrick Hughes' short, Signs, which attained legendary internet status in 2008.) The script, by Wai and three others, comes up with at least one neat comic variation when Koo's signage is also read by another woman in the same building as Gao; but the idea isn't followed through in any meaningful rom-com way, and the movie basically becomes a cliff-hanger of Gao's character not being able to decide between two men in her life. In the second half this involves flitting back and forth between Hong Kong and Gao's hometown of Suzhou, China, as if the two places are next door to each other — forcing a Mainland element into the film for box-office reasons rather than anything else.
Though she's better known for serious roles (Shanghai Dreams 青紅 (2005), Driverless 無人駕駛 (2010)), Gao can certainly do lighter romance, as she memorably showed in South Korean director HUR Jin-ho 허진호 | 許秦豪's A Good Rain Knows 호우시절 (2009), and in Heart her very different, Mainland style of acting plays off in a fresh way against Koo and Wu's typically slick, Hong Kong performances. The basic problem with the film is that, even on a rom-com level, the film is seriously shallow: the audience observes her emotional indecision but feels nothing for her (let alone the two men), which weakens the force of both the love triangle and the cliff-hanger finale. When she does make her choice, the loser simply shrugs and waves goodbye — much like the audience.
Supporting performances are okay — apart from a bizarre characterisation by LIU Yuhong 劉玉紅 as Gao's grandmother and a frantic one by To regular LAM Suet 林雪 — but the movie is essentially a threesome, with no developed smaller roles. Technically, the film is a smooth rather than glossy ride, with some its best moments being wordless sequences in which the visuals and music carry the story. But there's an insistent feeling of To going through the motions in this one rather than investing any real feeling.
The original Chinese title literally means Single Men and Women.
ContactSales: Media Asia, Hong Kong (email@example.com)
Premiere: Osaka Asian Film Festival (Special Screenings), 10 Mar 2011. Theatrical release: Hong Kong, 31 Mar 2011; China, 31 Mar 2011.
Presented by Media Asia Films (HK), China Film Media Asia Audio Video Distribution (CN). Produced by Milkway Image (HK). Executive producer: John Chong. Producers: Wai Ka-fai, Johnnie To.
Script: Wai Ka-fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan, Jevons Au. Photography: Cheng Siu-keung. Editors: David Richardson, Allen Leung. Music: Xavier Jamaux. Production design: Bruce Yu. Art direction: Raymond Chan, Fion Li. Costume design: Stephanie Wong. Sound: Steve Chan, Mak Chi-on, Martin Chappell. Visual effects: Law Wai-ho (Different Digital Design).
Cast: Louis Koo (Cheung Shen-ran), Daniel Wu (Fang Qihong), Gao Yuanyuan (Cheng Zixin), Lam Suet (John, Zixin's boss), Terence Yin (Owen, Zixin's former boyfriend), Selena Li (Owen's wife), J.J. Jia (Joyce), Larisa Bakurova (Angelina), Iva Law (Lucy), Liu Yuhong (Zixin's grandmother), Yan Jingtao (Zixin's mother), Wang Zhihua (Qihong's father), Du Yachun (Qihong's mother), Carlos Koo, Au Hin-wai, Elaine Tsang, Bryon Chan, Fung Pak-yin (bank employees).