Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Only You: Remaking Norman Jewison in China

Whether you live in Pittsburgh or Shanghai, Italy still represents the land of romance. Evidently, in 1994, Venice was the place to be, but now Milan is the in romantic getaway. There are other differences, but this Chinese remake of the Norman Jewison romantic comedy is pretty faithful to its inspiration. Once again, a smitten man will fight against fate and his own name to win the woman he falls for in Zhang Hao’s Only You (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

On two separate occasions, fortune tellers predicted Fang Yuan would marry a man named Song Kunming. Such a specific prophecy would be great if she knew anyone named Song Kunming, but she doesn’t. After years of waiting for him to show up, she finally decides to settle for Xie  Wei, a boring dentist. However, tens days before their wedding, she happens to take a phone message from Xei Wei’s old school chum, Song Kunming, who is en route to Milan.

With her BFF in tow, Fang Yuan impulsively rushes off to Italy (conveniently having a couple soon-to-expire visas burning a hole in her pocket), to track down her man of destiny. On their first night, they follow the trail from their hotel to a man claiming to be Song Kunming. He is perfect her in every way, except he eventually admits he is not really Song Kunming. Attempting a Hail Mary, he offers to help her find the real Song, in hopes of besting him for her affections.

You hardly need to have seen the original Marisa Tomei-Robert Downey, Jr. vehicle to know how it will all end. Admittedly, Only You seems like a rather odd remake candidate, but it is apparently the sort of film that has grown in popular affection during its video and DVD life, following its ho-hum initial box-office. Of course, there are also probably a lot of us out there who can come to China Lion’s Only You unburdened with indelible images of Downey, Jr. in a gondola.

There is no question the scenery is just as lovely this time around and the cast is even more attractive. There is a little bit of shtick, but it is decidedly mild compared to rom-com norms. Granted, nobody does a lot of heavy lifting here, but Tang Wei pouts quite effectively as Fang Yuan (if you want to see her in a deeper, darker romantic drama, check out the elegant Late Autumn). Liao Fan tries to keep his cool as best he can as someone not named Song Kunming, but Su Yan kind of steals the show as the tough but sensitive (and sultry) best friend.

Fully capitalizing on Milan’s picturesque public squares and the verdant surrounding countryside, the new Only You definitely makes you want to visit Italy—with Tang Wei—or Su Yan—or if you prefer, Liao Fan. Obviously the end is predetermined (unless you think both Liao and Downey, Jr. might come up empty romantically), but it is a pleasant, low stress trip. Recommended as a date movie, Only You opens this Friday (7/24) in New York, at the AMC Empire.