Your eyebrows may have been raised, that I've chosen to watch this movie ahead of Blood Brothers, which also premiered this week. The reasons are simple. First, there's Fan Bingbing and Kate Tsui, one a recognizable actress after her stint on TV's My Fair Princess, and her role opposite Andy Lau in Battle of Wits, while the other made her maiden foray into the Hong Kong film industry with her lead role in Eye in the Sky. Then there's this tacit affirmation that I would go watch every Kate Tsui movie that would be released in the cinemas here, given that she was nice to oblige my taking of a photograph with her during the HKIFF, no less than 3 times, but that's a story for another day.
Kate stars opposite Richie Ren (or Jen, depending on what floats your boat), as couple Rachel and Fat. They're the atypical modern day couple living it up in Beijing, though the latter is suspect of the former's promiscuity. He loathes the time when he has to bring his girlfriend back to the village to meet his parents, and to get the stamp of approval from his father (played by Yuen Wah). So they device a plan, and that is to look for a substitute girlfriend (hence the title Contract Lover), whose mission is to be as disgusting as possible, so that Dad will tell Fat to find anyone else better than the current beau, and hence, for Fat to introduce Rachel.
Cue Fan Bingbing's Joe (don't ask), a poor Chinese teacher who desperately needs the money to send home to her mom. To pull off being the most horrendous girlfriend ever, she has to go through a complete makeover, and be someone she's totally not, which is basically to act like a slutty bimbo (the credits actually showed her having an image consultant on set, though I suspect the role is to ensure her character doesn't tarnish Fan's good image). Then it's off to the village to try and be a put off to Fat's family.
The plot seems familiar, one of those fluffy romantic comedies where a mismatched couple soon find themselves falling for one another, while at the same time things happen to go against their plan, and for Fat not knowing who actually proves to be more compatible for him. Needless to say, Kate's role here is actually quite limited, given that she only appears in the beginning and at the end. The movie's in Mandarin too, and everyone has to speak it sans dubbers, which means the Hong Kongers must have had quite a difficult time - Kate does struggle with it, and can't seem to shake off her Cantonese accent convincingly.
The narrative runs quite choppily, and scenes seem quite disparate. Besides trying to be sexy at times (more for laughs actually), it cannot shake off the common generalization of villagers, that they just have to be skilled in martial arts. Yuen Wah's Dad is the distant descendant of Huo Yuanjia (remember Fearless?) and spouts (hokey) philosophy quite freely. Having set up the Jing Wu school, and the rivals being distant descendants of Wong Fei Hung, you can be sure that whatever jokes you can think of regarding their ancestry, be brought out for laughs. Those familiar with Hong Kong comedies, might see glimpses of them here, though with a lesser degree of success in delivery.
But there are genuine moments of laughter, though they are extremely few and far between. One involves pole dancing and kungfu training that just has to be seen to be believed, even though you see that moment coming a mile away. Or that 3-way romantic tangle involving a demure village girl, a hunky martial arts practitioner, and a gay Caucasian. There are just too many minute sub-plots that seem to suffocate and artificially inflate the runtime of the movie, adding little depth and contributing to many frivolous moments. Funny moments too run into the depths of blouses, though some might find them a tad too distasteful, and not revealing too much anyway.
However that's what you should expect in the first place when watching a movie like this. It has a basic premise tweaked from a tried and tested formula, and highly predictable to boot. It might serve as a decent romantic comedy for dates, but that's about it, unless of course you're a fan of either of the leads, or you've also had a tacit affirmation set up.