Director: Herman Yau
Cast: Charlene Choi, Pakho Chau, Micheel Wai, Gillian Chung, Anthony Wong, Kara Wai, Lawrence Cheng, Yumiko Cheng, Candy Lo, J.Arie
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 15 June 2017
Synopsis: When Eva ends her ten-year relationship with Adam, he's shocked by the seeming suddenness of the break-up till reading her private journal reveals it was the culmination of 77 heartbreaks. He is determined to win her back, but faces the hurdles of a drunken affair and the secret contained in the journal's missing last page.
How many times will you forgive the one you love? According to author and screenwriter Erica Li, who adapts her own novel of the same name for this modern-day romance, forgiving someone seven times isn’t enough; 70 x 7 times is too much, so 77 times sounds just about right. And so upon purchasing the titular journal from a pop-up bookstore run by a brother and sister couple named Heartbeat and Shutter respectively (played by Gillian Chung and Francis Ng in cameos), Eva (Charlene Choi) starts to take note of the occasions that she had forgiven her boyfriend Adam (Pakho Chau) for being selfish, or irresponsible, or insensitive, or dishonest. In fact, when we first meet Adam and Eva, she had already reached occasion number 77, which prompts her to decide that enough is enough and move out of the apartment she had shared with him since graduating from law school. Distraught, Adam gets himself drunk at his student Mandy’s (Michelle Wai) birthday party, and the pair end up spending the night together at his place, where Mandy will find Eva’s journal and read her account of their relationship together.
’77 Heartbreaks’ therefore unfolds in two parallel timelines: first, in the present, where Adam and Eva adjust to life apart from each other; and second, as flashbacks, to the numerous occasions that Eva had pencilled in her journal. The former sees Adam succumbing to his worse tendencies without Eva looking out for him, such as deliberately spiting his father whom he begrudges for divorcing his mother and making him study law when he had no intention or interest to do so, and contending with the advances of Mandy, who seems almost desperate to hook up and even get married with Adam. On the other hand, Eva immerses herself in legal work as a divorce lawyer no less – not only pointing out to clients the unreasonableness of their demands but also fending off the advances of one particularly philandering rich man – and spends the rest of her time with her girlfriends (played by Candy Lo, Yumiko Cheng and J.Arie). She also moves in with one of them briefly before moving back to stay with her widowed mother (Kara Wai), following the death of her father (Lawrence Cheng) in an accident.
Li’s screenplay jumps back and forth between past and present often without warning, so you may be a little caught off-guard at the start of each scene where to situate it. Notwithstanding, she and director Herman Yau at least maintain the consistency of keeping Adam and Eva apart from the point they separate till their reunion at the end, so it’s safe to assume that anytime you’re seeing them together is in fact sometime from the past. Of these, only the first and the seventy-seventh are noted, with enough of those in between for us to understand the nature of their disagreements, how Adam’s stubborn, self-righteous and self-centred nature has led to one heartbreak after another, and most importantly how much Eva must love Adam to have stayed with him despite his shortcomings. Whether out of coincidence or otherwise, the dynamic between Adam and Eva is not unlike that between Jimmy and Cherie of Pang Ho-cheung’s contemporary romantic trilogy, i.e. that of a more mature woman and a less mature, even childish, boyfriend.
Trying though it may be to see Adam repeatedly behaving so self-absorbed, it is precisely through these episodes that the movie finds poignancy: on one of these, Adam tells Eva two weeks after the fact that he has quit his job as a lawyer at his father’s legal firm and decided to go teach kickboxing instead, to which Eva reacts with exasperation not because of his actions per se but because he had not thought of discussing it with her beforehand; on another, Adam and Eva get lost during their trip to Japan while trying to find their way to their ryokan, all because Adam had failed to plan beforehand how to get there, which results in an argument that sees them go separate ways and Eva getting lost for hours; and on another, Adam expresses his displeasure at going back to Eva’s parents’ place for dinner, and then proceeds to argue with her father on everything from social issues to the definition of offside in a football match, despite her unmistakable nudges under the table to cease and desist.
Not simply because they are well-acted by Choi and Chau, these episodes will resonate with any couple because their disagreements are based on fundamentals that each and every relationship couple will have to work through – be it discussing each other’s decisions in life when it comes to work and/or family, or determining who it is will plan a vacation to its details, or simply when to give-and-take to accommodate each other’s parents. More than what Adam said or did, or what Adam did not say or do, are the basic values that undergird every healthy and happy relationship, i.e. values of mutual respect, consideration, trust, self-sacrifice, and above all honesty. Not to spoil the surprise, it is the absence of the last that causes Eva to ultimately end their relationship, and indeed on the basis of an honest confession by Adam of his faults and shortcomings in the past that moves Eva to re-consider her decision after all in the tearful but moving finale.
This is the ever-prolific Yau’s third studio release this year, and competent though the veteran director may be, there is also an unmistakable workmanlike quality here that undercuts the emotional impact of the last third. As significant as the seventy-seventh heartbreak is, it is over and dealt with too quickly, not only turning it somewhat into a narrative cliché but also diminishing the psychological scar that it would leave on any female. It should also be said that those looking for a happy ending will not get it, for Eva’s discovery of his one-night stand with Mandy dooms their happily-ever-after reunion and indeed leaves the door wide open for a sequel. And so, though it begins on an intriguing note and follows through compellingly to reveal the in-and-outs of a loving but troubled relationship, ’77 Heartbreaks’ fails to bring its saga to a satisfying close. Notwithstanding, it does bear meaningful lessons for relationships in general and, despite their upheavals, has a perfectly adorable couple in Adam and Eva that we do root for to be together. As antithetical as it may sound, this is still a sweet and touching film that is a timely reminder of just how important forgiveness and empathy is to any successful relationship.
(Despite failing to bring its emotional saga to a satisfying finish, there is real poignancy and meaning in this engaging, true-to-life portrayal of the emotional upheavals of a relationship)
Review by Gabriel Chong