It's difficult to sit through this movie, at least for me. Identifying with certain elements brought back some memories that I try to keep at the back of my mind, and going into this movie with slight expectations of the storyline reminded me of what a friends once said, that I'm a sucker for punishment. And yes, this movie dragged a bit, and moves along in cruise control, until the final act where it sledgehammers emotions all the way to an expected cliche ending.
But it is the emotions and thoughts of modern day relationships that makes this movie quite depressing. Based on a short story written by actress Rene Liu herself, and adapted for the big screen by renowned actress/director Sylvia Chang, Happy Birthday, stripped bear of its emotions, is actually a vanilla plain love story which is done ad nauseam. It is the little nuances of the things people do, or do not, that rings the story home.
Rene plays Mi, a girl who wears a smile on her face, but deep inside hides this grave insecurity. Louis Koo, more famous last year for his Johnny To triad outings and possibly treading the same path in the upcoming Derek Yee movie Protege, stars as Rene's lover Nam, a boy who seems to be commitment phobic, the stud to whom the chicks flock to. Put them both together, and with their obvious personality differences, you'll come to expect a very rocky road ahead. But isn't love all about taking that initial leap of faith?
Watching the two get together, then not, and then some, makes it frustrating. But I felt herein lies probably some realism, at least for me in my limited experiences, of two people trying to get together, yet prevented from doing do because of self doubt, or the lack of courage to admit your feelings. Walls get built up, and both decided to be better than best friends, because then, nobody will get heartbroken if things do not work out. What gives? It's back to the games people play.
I find it easy to identify surprisingly with both characters. The fear I can feel, and the folly of deciding to wait I've done, or perhaps still doing? And in my defenses I've set out to tell myself never to experience the type of heart sinking moments Mi felt when she learnt of good tidings from Nam. There will always remain a sense of curiosity, of wanting to maintain contact with your ex, or wanting to find out a bit more, but it's my take (some may disagree) to cut off ties completely (ok, so sometimes I waver), lest we hurt or become hurt.
It's tempting to dispense with the advice of telling someone you love them in case it becomes too late, especially after watching the movie and agreeing that holding back is one of the worst ways of handling relationships, but it's always easier to say than to do. You might be tempted to go forth and say it, however it's real life, and reality doesn't last just 1 hour and 45 minutes. I'm probably two minds about it though, with the counter argument being if you don't, you might spend equal time reminiscing on regret.
Rene Liu and Louis Koo look like the model couple, and it's pretty hard to know that the former, with her pixie looking facial features, is actually already 37 years old. And both leads actually belt out some tunes for the movie, albeit some deliberately off key. The look of the film takes on an incredible soft focus feel from start to end, and that, while romantic and dreamy during certain scenes, will take a bit of time to get used to. Veteran Richard Ng also stars in the movie, as Mi's dad, and the supporting cast of Bowie Tsang, Lawrence Chou, and a host of others helped to lift the movie from its gloom.
Happy Birthday might not be everyone's cup of tea given the style of delivery of its standard-story-with-cliched-ending, but I guess if you open up your heart to it, you might find it a tad more enjoyable, and somehow, if you're that sentimental fool who's been there and done that, you'll feel that tinge of regret inside you.