Jan 20, 2011|
(China) Directed by Feng Xiaogang. Starring Ge You, Shu Qi, Yao Chen, Sun Honglei. Category I.
Ever since his second feature film, every single movie Feng Xiaogang has made has gone on to become a major box office hit in mainland China. With his sarcastic, loquacious style and street wit, the director sits on an impressive oeuvre consisting of both comedies (try “Dream Factory” and “Big Shot’s Funeral”) and dramas (the excellent “Assembly” and tear-jerking “Aftershock”). But “If You’re the One 2,” his new romantic comedy, probably isn’t the place for newcomers to begin.
Ge You (Feng’s longtime collaborator) and Taiwanese actress Shu Qi return from the first one as protagonists Qin Fen and Liang Xiaoxiao—the former a 48-year-old accidental multimillionaire who, despite his dodgy, glib-tongued persona, is a nice and considerate guy; and the latter is an attractive stewardess in her late 20s who just got out of a painful relationship. The two met in the first movie after Fen put up an online ad for potential life-partners, and they then went on a trip to Hokkaido. “If 2” begins upon their return. Fen proposes, but Xiaoxiao is unsure of her love, so they agree to a “trial marriage” in Sanya, Hainan. Of course, there are plenty of jokes to be expected, especially when the odd pair decide to skip the honeymoon and the seven-year itch, and go straight to old-married-couple mode—no intimacy, only grumps. But none of the japes works effectively and come to feel very contrived.
Sadly, the story only gets kind of interesting when the focus moves away from their dysfunctional romance. Their mutual friends and divorced couple, Mango and Xiangshan, hold a divorce ceremony that’s bitterly funny. And the comments Fen makes about the foot massages and beauty pageants on the island are a joy for the cynical. But then the light-hearted story abruptly takes a turn to tear-land, where the movie brings up the topic of death and tries to teach the audience a life lesson.
Feng once said about Jiang Wen, his fellow filmmaker and friend for 20 years, “If one day he decides to make commercial films, he’ll be my strongest rival.” He’s proven right as Jiang’s “Let the Bullets Fly” (where Ge You also stars, and Feng makes a cameo) is undoubtedly the hottest thing in Chinese cinema right now; but that doesn’t explain why “If 2” is such a flop by comparison. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but both romance and comedy make mere cameos here. Problematic character-building and pacing aside, the film lacks an integral plot and inevitably becomes a pileup of artificial scenarios. Screenwriter Wang Shuo, a famous author and important cultural figure in China, obviously has a lot of spiritual reflections to present through the character of Xiangshan (played by a phenomenal Sun Honglei), but they collide with co-writer Feng’s mischievous style, and the final result looks like two films that don’t necessarily relate to each other.
In Feng’s autobiography, he reveals that Jiang Wen told him “good films are wine,” and criticized his commercialistic filmmaking method as “making grape juice instead of wine.” Ironically, when Jiang finally produces a good wine that for the first time also sells, Feng shockingly goes off-form with a little juice-making, which he’s usually brilliant at. Not that we don’t like grape juice, but “If 2” is just a little too diluted to enjoy.