Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love: From Taipei to Beijing

They are two cities so alike, but so far apart. Can a man from Taipei find love in Beijing? There are even greater obstacles facing eight interconnected individuals, but somehow love finds a way in Doze Niu Chen-Zer’s Love (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York, following a special Valentine’s sneak tonight.

Father of Ni and sugar daddy to the professional celebrity, Zoe Fang, “Uncle” Lu lives well in Taipei. Having just broken off an affair with the beautiful but needy Fang before it could really start, Lu’s business associate Mark leaves for Beijing hoping to buy property. Instead, he meets disastrously meet-cutes the attractive but disorganized realtor Jin Xiao-ye.

Although Uncle Lu offers stability, Fang is drawn in spite of herself to Kuan, the stammering busboy older brother of Yi-jia, Ni’s best friend who is pregnant by Ni’s boyfriend, Kai. Feeling understandably betrayed, Ni breaks with both, leaving Kuan to look after his sister while his Notting Hill relationship with Fang slowly percolates.

Love clearly sounds like another Chinese-Taiwanese variation on multi-character rom-coms typified by Valentine’s Day and Heaven forbid New Year’s Eve. However, Doze Nui’s film and its thematic predecessors such as Wing Shya and Tony Chan’s Love in Space work so much better, perhaps because they are never afraid of a little emotion or melodrama. Unlike Gary Marshall schmaltz, one never gets the sense the cast-members are rolling their eyes off camera. On the contrary, everyone involved with Love seems to understand when you have deep feelings for someone that may not be reciprocal, it is a very serious matter.

Love also has the benefit of legitimate chemistry within its ridiculously attractive ensemble. Perhaps past familiarity helped. After pining for (Ivy) Chen Yi-han in Cheng Fen-fen’s Hear Me, (Eddie) Peng Yu-yan becomes the object of her unrequited affections this time around, as Kai. He makes a credible knucklehead again, while her turn as Yi-jia is just as sweet and vulnerable. Likewise, Amber Kuo is equally sympathetic and engaging as Ni.

However, the (somewhat) senior cast members really provide the romantic seasoning. Superstar Shu Qi is absolutely radiant, putting Julia Roberts to shame as Fang. She also convincingly expresses her character’s desire to find self worth through productive work, an appealing theme largely foreign to Hollywood and American indie productions (“Work? Huh, wha?”) As in his previous film Monga, Doze Niu provides himself a key assist in a supporting role. Although the comparative old timer, he brings far more charisma to Uncle Lu than can be dismissed as Woody Allen style vanity casting. One could well imagine a single middle aged woman would be very interested in meeting him.

Aptly titled, Love is perfect Valentine’s Day fare, but not unrealistically so. It is pretty clear not every character will have a spot on a loveseat when the music stops. Yet, it is an impossible movie not to like. Recommended for all the secret sentimentalists out there who can safely go to foreign films without losing their cineaste street cred, Love officially opens this Friday (2/17) in New York at the AMC Empire and in San Francisco at the AMC Metreon, from China Lion Entertainment.