If You Are the One
3/23/2009 by Maggie Lee
HONG KONG — After expanding his range into the lavish palace saga (”The Banquet”) and war drama (”The Assembly”), China boxoffice king Feng Xiaogang makes an assured return to his trademark genre, the romantic comedy. “If You Are the One,” a diverting urban lark about an unlikely couple coming together through blind dates, sports an affable cast and untaxing plot, harking back to the airy playfulness of his 1998 hit “Be There or Be Square.”
Released in China as one of the key year-end festive films, “If You Are the One” made about $53.7 million. Overseas sales reached far beyond the expected Chinese-speaking markets, though North Americans will probably see it on DVD. Westerners wishing to get a taste of mainstream Chinese cinema will be pleasantly surprised.
As in Feng’s other films, Ge You’s presence is as indispensable as a mascot, mastering Feng’s brand of clever one-liners with dead-on timing and a droll mixture of cockiness and self-deprecation. He plays Qin Fen, a U.S. emigre who wants to get married in his native Beijing. He advertises on love personals, emphasizing: “Only sincere ones need apply” — which is the film’s Chinese title. Yet sincerity is the one quality missing from his disastrous dates with an assortment of women who come armed with an arsenal of ulterior motives.
Like some of the blind date gags in “Must Love Dogs,” these encounters have their rib-tickling moments (such as one girl trying to sell graveyard plots on the date), but the culturally specific situations and wordplay lose some flavor in translation.
Qin meets flight attendant Smiley (Shu Qi) and is instantly smitten. Amusingly, he wraps his compliments in layers of sarcasm and mock insincerity. Smiley, it turns out, is languishing in a no-hope affair with a married man. They get sloshed and confide their painful pasts to each other. This is one point when the film engages on a heartfelt emotional level.
Eventually, Smiley decides to move on in life and asks Qin to go to Hokkaido, Japan with her to help her get over her lover. “Red Cliff” cinematographer Lu Yue captures outdoor locations as lovely as the pages of an in-flight magazine. The introduction of Qin’s old friend and tour guide brings out themes of male friendship and midlife loneliness. However, neither this nor Qin’s continuing comic antics relates much to the emotional arc of the journey, making the last leg of the romance feel like a road movie with too many detours.
Shu Qi and Ge You share a cozy camaraderie even if they are as flirtatious as two iguanas having a siesta. Unlike a typical romance, there is no defining moment when love is consummated. The pragmatist wisdom that prevails in the last scene takes the love story out of its initial escapist realm.
Huayi Brothers Media Corp./Media Asia Films Ltd. in association with China Film Co-Production Corp.
Cast: Ge You, Shu Qi, Alex Fong, Vivian Hsu.
Director/screenwriter: Feng Xiaogang.
Story: Chen Kuofu.
Producers: Wang Zhongjun, John Chong.
Executive producers: Chen Kuofu, Hu Xiaofeng, Wang Zhonglie.
Director of photography: Lu Yue.
Art director: Shi Haiying
Music: Ching Liu Ray
Costume designer: Man Lim Chung.
Editor: Liu Miaomiao, Xiao Yang.
Sales: Huayi Brothers Media Corp.
No rating, 130 minutes