Sunday, December 28, 2014

Love on the Cloud: Angelababy and Mo Chou the Shar Pei

Screenwriter Sha Guo will write treatments for just about every sort of contemporary Chinese film a doofus character such as himself might appear in. There will be romantic comedy, tragedy, compulsive social networking, and a surprisingly credible haunting. Still, the big question will be whether he gets the girl or the dog, or both, or neither in director-screenwriter Gu Chang-wei’s Love on the Cloud (trailer here) which is now playing in New York.

Sha Guo and his buddies, aspiring cinematographer Ma Dai and would be matinee idol-producer Huang Xaigang, the so-called “Three Dreamers” have just reeled in an investor for their first film, Living with the Werewolf. Ms. Ma the beef magnate just wants a couple script revisions: product placement for her Little Bull company. No problem, they can do that. In this case, “they” means Sha Guo. After a hard session of rewriting, he hits the social media apps looking for a hook-up. Instead, up-and-coming auto-show model Chen Xi exploits his “Sad Shar Pei” handle, suckering him into dog-sitting her furrowed browed Mo Chou. Of course, he agrees, hoping it will lead to bigger and hotter things. However, both Chen Xi’s dog-sitting and Ms. Ma’s rewrites will become a constant in his increasingly frustrated life.

Given its title and genre, HK film fans might assume Love on the Cloud is the next installment in Pang Ho-cheung’s Love in a Puff-Love in the Buff series, but Cherie Yu and Jimmy Cheung will not be breaking up and getting back together again, at least not right now. Cloud is actually Beijing-set and Mainland produced, featuring a star turn from Angelababy. About a billion people already knew the model-turned-actress was a star, but with Cloud she successfully transitions from perky teen roles (Love in Space, All’s Well Ends Well 2010 and 2011) to a legit romantic lead. She smokes up the screen and leaves poor Michael Chen and his hapless Sha Guo looking small and deflated on-screen.

Still, when he is satirizing the Chinese film business with the other two Dreamers, Chen is a good sport, keeping the material remarkably grounded, all things considered, by minimizing the shtick and the mugging. In fact, the entire cast earns props because Gu throws the kitchen sink at them, but never wastes much time on dry, boring transitions. Frankly, it is hard to believe how much of the film works. Even the horror movie segments, necessitated by another batch of rewrites for Ms. Ma, are actually sort of creepy and very true to genre conventions.

Angelababy is radiant throughout Cloud and Chen keeps plugging away, but good old Mo Chou just sort of steals the picture rather effortlessly. The camera loves the Shar Pei, but he never resorts to cheap tricks to look cute. So yes, give the dog credit for subtlety of his performance (would it be going too far to compare him favorably with Meryl Streep’s excessive theatrics in Ossage County? It’d be true.) Regardless, there are enough laughs mixed with Angelababy’s glamour and Mo Chou’s furry charm to keep Cloud chugging along at a good clip. Recommended for those who like a good doggie rom-com with a little bit of an edge, Love on the Cloud is now playing in New York at the AMC Empire.