Happy Birthday (2007)
Reviewed by: STSH on 2007-02-11
Summary: Enjoyable
A lot happens, and nothing much happens. Mai and Nam are made for each other. Their friends know it. Her father knows it. But they never seem to be in sync.

An example : Early in the story, they are in a passionate embrace on a bed, fully clothed. Mai asks Nam if he'd like to become best friends. They discuss the finer points of this idea in between kisses. Eventually Nam says "I'm not an air-conditioner. I'm not so easy to adjust".

Years pass and circumstances keep changing. Mai grows from piano student to accomplished teacher. Nam goes from student to busy corporate type. Boyfriends and girlfriends come and go. But they keep their promise to remember each other's birthdays.

There is much to like about this movie. The performances are fine and convincing, especially the always-welcome appearance of Richard Ng and the too-short screen time of an unusually thin Jordan Chan. The soundtrack carried me along effortlessly, with the accent on the piano, even prompting me to think I should start taking lessons again.

A few things jarred. For instance, there is a flashback to when Mai was a child, playing the piano, her head turns, and a door slams. This image is played over and over, but is never resolved or explained. And the camera lingers on Rene Liu somewhat more than the story calls for (perhaps because it was she who wrote the story ?).

But these annoyances are quickly glossed over. One scene in particular is perhaps emblematic. Mai gets into her new car and listens to a message from Nam. The news he brings upsets her, and she drives around in circles in the car park with the headlights off at night. This is perhaps a metaphor for her relationship with Nam.

Not much high drama here. No real histrionics. A few people close to the leads die and are mourned, but the tone doesn't really hit any great highs or lows. But that is not to say the proceedings are like a soap opera - not at all. The strongest emotion you are likely to feel is teeth-grating frustration, and the urge to grab these characters, shake them and yell "For God's sake, just get together and be done with it !".

In summary, this is a tender story of perhaps modern confusion. Quite universal (although the proceedings happen in HK and Japan, it really could be set almost anywhere) and handled with sensitivity. Not a lot of humour, very little high drama. Pretty good entertainment.
Reviewer Score: 5