Which director is capable of making a record-breaking blockbuster out of a tale about a balding, middle-aged man’s search for true love? The answer is Feng Xiaogang (馮小剛). After his lavish period saga The Banquet (夜宴) and war drama Assembly (集結號), the genre-crossing wizard has made a confident return to what he was originally known for — ironic comedies set in contemporary China — with If You Are the One (非誠勿擾).
Co-starring Feng’s long-time collaborator, Chinese actor Ge You (葛優), with Taiwanese actress Shu Qi (舒淇), the romantic comedy revolves around an unlikely couple whose relationship begins with a blind date, endures much sparring and ultimately leads to deeply felt affections. Its huge box-office success — the movie earned roughly US$50 million — cements Feng’s reputation as China’s foremost purveyor of popular comedies.
In the opening scene, which delivers a good laugh at the expense of China’s nouveau riche, onetime inventor Qin Fen (Ge) sells his Conflict Resolution Terminal, basically a plastic tube, to a foolish venture capitalist (played by Chinese comic Fan Wei (范偉)). With his newfound wealth, Qin focuses his attention on finding a wife to make his life complete.
As he goes from one blind date to another, Qin encounters plenty of unsuitable matches who include a gay man, an erotic-phobic widow and a woman who tries to sell graveyard plots during the date. Eventually, he meets Liang Xiaoxiao (Shu), a flight attendant languishing in a love affair with a married man (played by Hong Kong’s Alex Fong (方中信)).
Qin immediately realizes the beautiful Xiaoxiao is out of his league. Nevertheless, the two end up having a drink and confiding painful pasts to each other, assuming they will never see each other again.
But fate draws them back together and Qin tries to win Xiaoxiao’s heart with tactics he takes care to stage in an effortless fashion. It seems to work and Xiaoxiao, softened by his persistence, invites Qin on a trip to Japan’s picturesque Hokkaido.
Director Feng once again proves his mastery of satire and humor when it comes to observing Chinese society in the midst of changing times. The script is smartly written, filled with snappy dialogue, enjoyable sarcasm and dry wit. Though the blind dates provide much comedy in the first half of the film, Feng pokes fun at modern-day notions of dating, romance and marriage. A few caricatures that stand out include a pregnant young woman (played by Taiwan’s Vivian Hsu (徐若瑄)) desperately seeking a husband and a businesswoman who habitually compares men to stocks.
The narrative becomes a bit too discursive in the second half of the film when the two leads build on their mutual affections during their trip to Hokkaido. It feels disappointing, at times, to see that Ge’s charming antics alone are not enough to produce the emotional weight the journey demands. An offbeat coda, which makes meta-references to the global economic crisis, feels at odds with the rest of the movie.
The film wouldn’t be as successful if the main roles had been played by lesser actors. A charismatic leading man, Ge is admirably adept at mixing sincerity with cynicism, conceit with self-disapproval. Shu proves herself an able match for her veteran costar, and the two share a terrific chemistry that is delivered throughout the film.
If You Are the One (非誠勿擾)
DIRECTED BY: Feng Xiaogang (馮小剛)
STARRING: Ge You (葛優) as Qin Fen, Shu Qi (舒淇) as Liang Xiaoxiao
LANGUAGE: In Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 128 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: Tuesday
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