Thursday, September 22, 2011

HK Cinema at SFFS: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

It must be a sign of the zeitgeist when HK action auteur Johnnie To and his frequent collaborator Wai Ka-fai set their latest film in the world of high finance in a deliberate attempt to appeal to Mainland audiences. What would Madame Mao say? Yet, their love triangle rom-dramedy is the sort of material that has appealed to average movie patrons for generations. Still, they do instill Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (trailer here) with enough in-the-now to make it quite a fitting and appropriate way to close the San Francisco Film Society’s first class Hong Kong Cinema series this coming Sunday.

Chang Zixin is smart enough to predict the recent global “hard correction,” but she is not so shrewd in love. Yet in a promising development, she has been flirting with the Cheung Shen-ran, whose fat corner office can be seen from her bullpen station. As will happen in rom-coms, he inadvertently asks both her and the hottie in the office below her out for coffee at the same time. In a moment of weakness, he chooses the one with the larger endowments and lives to regret it.

Cheung is not the only one interested in Chang. Fate also brought her together with Fang Qi-hong, a spiritually down-and-out architect, more interested in boozing than building. He gave her a little confidence after last break-up and she gave him her ex’s pet frog. She also inspired him to clean up his act and fall in love with her. Not so suddenly, the bottom falls out of the market, taking Cheung down with it. Three years later, he returns to the game as Chang’s new boss. Across the way, Fang’s new architectural firm has taken over Cheung old office space. Let the rivalry begin.

Despite the disruption of the financial bubble, Heart is not really about the sort-of-great crash. It is however, very definitely preoccupied with the near-misses and hyper-connected loneliness of contemporary urban professionals. For its three principals, the mere act of making a connection must be significant, because it is so unlikely.

Yet, if it all sounds dour and serious, rest assured To and Wai keep the tone largely towards the lighter side. They also have the benefit of three ridiculously attractive primary cast members, as well as To regular Suet Lam as an office manager very much in the Ricky Gervais tradition. However, Gao Yaunyuan’s Chang is so radiantly cute, it is hard to understand how the heck Cheung keeps blowing it with her. Not just a HK Bridget Jones, she is actually a smart, self-aware fully-dimensional woman.

Frankly, the degree to which To and Wai stack the deck in favor of Fang eventually becomes a tad ridiculous. The comfortable old-shoe charisma Daniel Wu projects as Fang further exaggerates the disparity between her suitors. While he might be rich, it is hard to fathom how Louis Ko’s preening smugness as Cheung could be appealing to anyone. Still, Chang’s investment of time and emotional commitment is understandably difficult to walk away from.

Considering how unbalanced it is, Heart ought to be termed an isosceles love triangle. Yet, somehow To, Wai, Gao, and basic human nature maintain a sense of uncertainty as to whom she will ultimately choose. That is saying something for this genre. Stylish executed (even with the 1980’s-ish pop and smooth jazz soundtrack), Heart even features an enormous CGI-skyscraper, rising as triumphant testimony to the power of love. Lehman Brothers references notwithstanding, it is essentially a old school movie romance and a rather satisfying one at that. Though doubtlessly a disappointment for most To fans, Heart will be a pleasant conclusion to the Hong Kong Cinema series this coming Sunday (9/25) at the New People Cinema in San Francisco.