Director: Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai
Cast: Louis Koo, Daniel Wu, Gao Yuan Yuan, Lam Suet
RunTime: 1 hr 57 mins
Released By: Clover Films & Cathay-Keris
Official Website: http://www.mediaasia.com/dontgobreakingmyheart/trailer.html
Opening Day: 7 April 2011
Synopsis: Yen is a single girl from China working in an IT company in Hong Kong. Overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of this sleepless city, she feels increasingly like a fish out of water. Just when she has almost succumbed to the inevitable prospect of being alone and lonely in this unfriendly place, her fate begins to turn in an unexpected way.
One day, she notices a handsome hunk in the office building across the street from hers trying to catch her attention with paper signs. She immediately picks up a scrap of paper and doodles back. A quirky romance ensues as she starts communicating with him by paper signs every day.
On the day when she finally has the chance to meet him in flesh and blood, however, she discovers to her consternation that this so-called romance has been an embarrassing mix-up on her part. The love notes this guy, Sean, has been writing are only meant for a sexy vixen working at the office above hers. He is oblivious to her existence, let alone their blossoming romance.
Just when Yen is ready to crawl back to her lonesome shell, her fate changes again. She is accosted by a beggar called Kevin in the park and is captivated by the sad expression on his face. They start talking and, before they know it, have become the best of friends. She learns that this starkly handsome beggar was an elite architect who ended up wandering the streets after losing his self. Yen starts helping him rebuild his confidence and get back on tracks.
Months pass. Sean finally gives up his life as a playboy and realizes Yen is the dream girl he would like to spend the rest of his life with. Meanwhile, the rebound Kevin is also planning to propose to Yen at the rooftop of his latest design that was inspired by his love for her.
Yen is no longer alone and lonely, but will she be able to find her true love?
Alone, Johnnie To makes gritty crime thrillers like “Vengeance”, “Election” and “The Mission” that have won critical praise from even the West. On his own, Wai Kar-Fai makes mainstream Chinese New Year offerings like “Fantasia”, “Himalaya Singh” and “The Shopaholics” as well as offbeat- and more critically acclaimed- dramas like “Written By”. But given their respective strengths as director and scripter, their mutual collaborations have not surprisingly been the most critically and commercially successful for both To and Wai- whether is it the action thrillers “Mad Detective” or the romantic comedies “Needing You” and “Love on a Diet”.
It is in the latter genre that To and Wai are collaborating as directors on after a four-year sojourn (the last the pair were credited as co-directors was “Mad Detective”), the title of this latest in Mandarin another variation of the ‘male-female’ moniker that appears in their Andy Lau-Sammi Cheng rom-coms above. Instead of a straightforward two-person romance, To and Wai have upped the ante this time with a love triangle- one the high-flying finance company CEO Cheung Shen-ran (Louis Koo), one the architect Fang Qihong (Daniel Wu) masquerading as a drunken tramp at first, and the last the investment bank analyst Cheng Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan).
Though both Shen-ran and Qihong are vying for Zixin’s affections, the two men couldn’t be more different. One is a rich playboy who professes his love in grand gestures (like asking Zixin to pick the Maserati and apartment of her choice) but doesn’t believe that commitment is in a man’s genes; and the other is a earnest romantic at heart who only wants to be that constant reassuring presence next to her and remains steadfastly unwavering in his love, even after three years and numerous propositions from other eligible girls. Who she will eventually choose is the question Wai and his fellow Milkyway Team screenwriters (Yau Nai-hoi, Rayker Chan, Jevons Au) keep from their audience right till the end.
Meanwhile, they concoct a series of fortunate (or unfortunate) coincidences for the trio- first in 2008 with the backdrop of the Lehman Brothers crisis, as an enamoured Zixin forgets her date with Qihong after Shen-ran’s romantic overtures, only to have Shen-ran forsake their date for another busty Western woman; then three years later when Zixin meets Shen-ran once more when he assumes the position of CEO of the bank she is working for, only to have Qihong take over the office space where Shen-ran used to work. The Wai high concept here? A lot of the communication between the leads takes place across their diagonally located office windows with Post-Its and other miming devices.
This amusing conceit is directed with breezy delight by veteran To in the first hour, and the fleet footedness of this utterly winsome half is reminiscent of their earlier rom-com genre classics. But what goodwill the film accrues from its audience is put to the test by a draggier and less wieldy second half, as Zixin goes back and forth between Shen-ran and Qihong. Wai tries to root her indecision in the perennial dilemma of choosing between a love that is fierce, passionate and often described as “the kind that sweeps you off your feet” and a love that is gentle, supportive, and often described as “the comforting arm around your shoulder”- but doesn’t quite make her character a strong enough emotional anchor. Without that connection, her vacillation comes off as shallow and the cliff-hanger finale where she finally makes up her mind lacks the punch it should pack.
Not that the star-studded cast doesn’t try- Mainland actress Gao Yuanyuan remains likeable from start to finish, despite her character’s slightly annoying indecisiveness, and bears more than a passing resemblance to Hong Kong’s Gigi Leung with her bop-headed haircut. Louis Koo has by now perfected the role of the charming cad, and Daniel Wu delivers a sincere if unremarkable performance. In supporting turns are Liu Yihong as Zixin’s grandmother and Lam Suet in yet another comic relief role as Zixin’s effeminate confidante at work. None of the roles demand much from the seasoned actors, and they reciprocate accordingly.
The same can be said of this movie for both To and Wai, who take a break from their more creative, more unique and ultimately more fulfilling ventures for something fluffy and lightweight. As a rom-com, it has enough charm and genuinely amusing moments to keep you entertained; but as a To-Wai rom-com, this lacks the poignancy of their more superior Andy Lau-Sammi Cheng efforts. To has widely acknowledged that this was made primarily for the Mainland market; now let’s hope after this brief detour, both To and Wai will return to the distinctive stuff that they have been known of and that few Hong Kong filmmakers have been able to replicate.
(This lightweight fluffy rom-com is good for a date night out, but little more)
Review by Gabriel Chong