Contemporary romantic comedy
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 120 mins
Directed by Doze Niu (鈕承澤)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 10 February 2012, 14:20 PM (HKT)
Good-looking, multi-character Valentine's Day movie, stronger in parts than as a whole. Asian events.
Beijing, the present day. Disorganised real-estate employee Jin Xiaoye (Vicki Zhao) is late for an appointment to show high-powered Taiwan businessman Mark Na (Mark Chao), who has family roots in Beijing, round a traditional courtyard house he's interested in buying. They end up in an argument and Xiaoye injures her foot; at the police station they discover they're both half-Manchurian in origin. In Taipei, Taiwan, socialite Fang Jou-yi (Shu Qi) has a row with her wealthy boyfriend, gallery-owner Lu Ping (Doze Niu), and is "rescued" by hotel employee Li Hsiao-kuan (Ethan Ruan), who she'd previously had a contretemps with on the street, and ends up sleeping on the roof terrace of his family's restaurant. Hsiao-kuan's younger sister Yi-chia (Ivy Chen) has discovered she's pregnant by wannabe film director Kai (Eddie Peng), boyfriend of her best friend Lu Hsiao-ni (Amber Kuo), daughter of Lu Ping. When Hsiao-ni finds out Yi-chia wants an abortion, she works out the truth. In Beijing, Xiaoye and Mark bump into each other at a meeting of the Manchurian Association but end up quarreling again. Xiaoye has a dislike of Taiwanese men, as the father of her seven-year-old son Doudou (Lin Muran) ran off to the island before he was born and she's since raised him on her own. When Doudou goes missing, Mark helps in finding him up a tree; in order to coax him down, Xiaoye is forced to pretend that Mark is the boy's long-lost father, and prove it by kissing him in public. Back in Taipei, Kai tries to prove his love for Hsiao-ni by jumping into a septic tank; meanwhile, Hsiao-kuan and Jou-yi become closer, as she needs a shoulder to cry on in her waning relationship with Lu Ping. And in Beijing, Mark and Xiaoye also spend increasing time together.
After his epic study of young hoodlums in Monga 艋舺 (2010), Taiwanese actor-turned-director Doze NIU 鈕承澤 does a 180° turn with Love 愛, an out-and-out Valentine's Day crowdpleaser with eight characters and their emotional ups-and-downs. Though it's co-financed by China major Huayi Brothers, and includes an odd-couple love story set in Beijing, Love still has the feel of a Taiwan movie with a Mainland section bolted on, not least because the two characters in the Beijing strand have no connection with the six inter-linked ones in Taipei. The irony is that that section is the best acted and most affecting — thanks to excellent chemistry between Taiwan's Mark CHAO 趙又廷 (the hero in Monga) and China's Vicki ZHAO 趙薇 (in her first role since her maternal lay-off) — whereas the Taipei sections, which form the majority of the movie, are pretty formulaic in a Taiwan-cute way.
Love is never less than a painless sit (especially in its slightly tighter, 115-minute Mainland cut) and is always easy on the eye (with summery Taipei photography by Taiwan ace d.p. Mark LEE 李屏賓). But like Monga, also co-written by Iris TSENG 曾莉婷, its script doesn't match its multi-character ambitions. The faults are less noticeable here as Love is essentially a fluffy rom-com rather than a hoodlum mini-epic, with no deep-down drama at stake; but the rom-com genre is in many ways an even trickier genre to pull off successfully and, though the various strands finally start to come together in the final 20 minutes and each story is neatly wrapped up, there's no big emotional wallop at the end to send the audience out onto the street. Instead, it's a movie of enjoyable moments and individual scenes, rather than a cohesive whole.
The biggest pan-Chinese star in the film, Taiwan-born SHU Qi 舒淇, is okay as an actress who's tiring of her money-oriented existence but is hardly stretched in the way she was in Andrew LAU 劉偉強's recent A Beautiful Life 不再讓你孤單 (2011); the same can be said for her compatriots Eddie PENG 彭于晏 and squeaky-voiced singer-actress Amber KUO 郭采潔 (Peng's tomboy co-star in Close to You 近在咫尺 (2010)), while director Niu himself looked more at home as a gangster in Monga than he does as a wine-drinking sugar-daddy here. The best playing on the Taiwan side come from Ethan RUAN 阮經天 (also good in Monga) as the stuttering fan who gives Shu Qi a shoulder to cry on, and from Ivy CHEN 陳意涵 (the devoted younger sister in Hear Me 聽說 (2009)) as the pregnant younger sister of Ruan's character.
But it's the Beijing story that really bounces off the screen, and engages the emotions, in Zhao and Chao's playing of the odd couple who just can't stop quarreling. Ali CHEN 陳建利's photography has a slightly more realistic edge which matches the sharper dialogue and Zhao, looking slim-line and refreshed after her two-year maternal lay-off, handles both the comedy and romance with gusto, with Chao neatly underplaying the businessman. There's also a benignly comic performance by Michael WANG 王景春 (the sympathetic father in WANG Xiaoshuai 王小帥's 11 Flowers 我１１ (2011)) as a Beijing cop who functions as their de facto matchmaker.
A number of (largely Taiwan) names pop up in cameos — such as veteran writer-producer HSIAO Yeh 小野 as a college lecturer — as well as other Monga cast members like CHEN Han-tien 陳漢典, HUANG Teng-hui 黃鐙輝 and half-Welsh Rhydian VAUGHAN 鳳小岳, who played the cocky Tom Cruise lookalike in the previous film. Much of the dry humour in the dialogue doesn't come fully across in the English subtitles, though this may be an impossible job to convey in writing.
ContactSales: Huayi Brothers Media (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: Taiwan, 10 Feb 2012; China, 13 Feb 2012.
Presented by Huayi Brothers (CN), Honto Productions (TW). Produced by Honto Productions (TW). Executive producers: Wang Zhongjun, Doze Niu. Producers: Doze Niu, Wang Zhonglei.
Script: Iris Tseng, Wang Qi'nan, Doze Niu. Photography: Mark Lee (Taipei), Ali Chen (Beijing). Editing supervision: Iris Tseng. Editing: Milk Su, Ian Lin. Music: George Chen. Production design: Max Huang. Costume design: Fang Chi-lun. Stylist: Hsu Li-wen. Sound: Chu Shih-yi, Tu Duu-chih. Visual effects: Clement Cheng. Special effects: Chi Wen.
Cast: Vicki Zhao (Jin Xiaoye, the single mother), Shu Qi (Fang Jou-yi/Zoe Fang, the socialite), Ethan Ruan (Li Hsiao-kuan), Mark Chao (Mark Na, the businessman), Amber Kuo (Lu Hsiao-ni), Ivy Chen (Li Yi-chia, Hsiao-kuan's younger sister), Eddie Peng (Kai, Hsiao-ni's boyfriend), Doze Niu (Lu Ping, the gallery owner), Lung Shao-hua (Mr. Li), Belle Yu (Mrs. Li), Wang Jingchun (Ge Ting, the Beijing policeman), Lin Muran (Doudou, Xiaoye's son), Kang Kang, Yang Kuei-mei, Ting Chiang, Li Hsuan, Hsiao Yeh, Rhydian Vaughan, Chen Han-tien, Tsai Chang-hsien, Huang Teng-hui, Zhang Haiyan, Du Jiayi, Jo'elle Lu, Chu Chih-ying, Bright Pu, Huang Chien-ho, Wei Po-chin, Chen Yu-hsun, Li Jun.