Wang Lee-hom (王力宏) and Jay Chou (周杰倫) share much in common. Both are Mando-pop superstars, both created their signature sounds by fusing Chinese and Western music styles, and with Wang’s directorial debut Love in Disguise (戀愛通告) hitting movie theaters in Taiwan and China this week, both have tested their talents in filmmaking.
The comparison doesn’t end there.
Both Chou and Wang started their first forays into directing with a subject they know best.
In his puppy-love flick Secret (不能說的秘密), Chou stars as a younger version of himself, a music major at Tamkang Secondary School (the Mando-pop king’s alma mater).
Wang plays himself in Love in Disguise, a romantic comedy that tells the story of Du Minghan, a pop sensation who found fame at a tender age and leads a glitzy life filled with champagne-fueled parties and paparazzi.
Then he meets Song Xiaoqing (played by China’s Liu Yifei, 劉亦菲), a girl-next-door type college student and guzheng (古箏, Chinese zither) player at the Shanghai Conservatory.
Determined to get to know Song better, Du enrolls at the music school in disguise, dragging along with him his buddy, the guitar-playing Wei Zhibo (Taiwanese entertainer Chen Han-dian, 陳漢典).
The rest of the movie adheres to the formulaic and well-trodden romcom genre plotline: The two are attracted to each other, encounter obstacles to their budding relationship, but by the end wind up together as we always know they would.
In Wang’s version, the hero saves the day and wins the girl’s heart with a cheer-inducing show of “chinked-out” music, a fusion style created by the ABT singer and songwriter who combines Chinese traditional music with hip-hop beats.
Like Chou was with Secret, for Love in Disguise Wang is credited as co-writer, director and actor, and was supported by a top-notch production crew, including internationally acclaimed cinematographer Mark Lee (李屏賓) and sound designer Tu Duu-chih (杜篤之).
But while Chou’s Secret, albeit cliched and overly lovey-dovey at times, is a neatly produced piece of filmmaking in its own right, Love in Disguise resembles little more than an expensive self-publicity stunt in the guise of a film.
Everything about the story and its characters is lifeless, and the film seems like it was tailor-made to show off Wang’s considerable musical accomplishments.
In the movie, the Wang/Du duo save the school’s music department from closure by reviving interest in traditional Chinese music with “chinked-out” tunes. Off screen, Wang’s new album, The 18 Martial Arts (十 八般武藝), is scheduled for release today, and many of its songs can be found on the movie.
The film’s penchant for promotion reaches another level with the blatant product placement of hair-care and beauty brands that Wang endorses.
Veteran actress Joan Chen (陳沖) deserves a mention for striking a fine balance between caricature and comedy as Du’s overbearing but loving agent.
And the star of the show, whose wooden performances in Ang Lee’s (李安) Lust, Caution (色戒) and the Jackie Chan-produced film Little Big Soldier (大兵小將) were greeted with scorn, benefits from showing off his comic side, though the script often resorts to hackneyed jokes.
Love in Disguise does offer moments of genuine humor and delight when the boundary between what’s real and what’s not is deliberately crossed, leaving audiences amused over the fact that Wang is able to make fun of himself as one of the most hotly pursued stars in the Chinese-speaking world.
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