New York, I Love You finally makes it to our shores, but its 10 short stories on love somehow didn't find reason enough to be released over Valentine's, probably due to the fact that this year's festival also falls on Lunar New Year, and with that comes the usual LNY blockbuster films from the likes of Jackie Chan (no, not The Spy Next Door) and local filmmaker Jack Neo who has traditionally released his latest film over that period to resounding success. So why fix a formula that hasn't been broken?
Continuing in concept where Paris, Je T'aime had begun in spawning the Cities of Love Franchise (Shanghai will be next, so says the end of the closing credits here), the buzz here is definitely about the intertwining stories set in one of the cities of the world to allow for various interpretations from filmmakers all over to come up with stories based on love as a theme, although someone probably forgot to tell Scarlett Johansson some of the finer points in the sandbox ground rules, and her short was unceremoniously dropped from the theatrical edition for being unable to fit into everything else (well, it was shot in black and white), but here's hoping that it would make it to the DVD at least.
Structurally, this series is less compartmentalized compared to its predecessor, which if memory serves me right had individual stories set within its own confines and never really breaking out of its artificial borders created. Here a little more leeway is given, where characters from various stories interact in short filler segments used to bridge scenes together, and not just solely reliant on pick up shots made up of buildings and landscapes, in hopes of making things look a little bit more serendipitous with the idea of chance encounters amongst strangers, though one story craftily adopted this mindset for its own narrative to deliver a surprise, though already seen in Paris.
One of the top draws for sitting through a film like this one, is definitely the creative forces behind the stories, from writers, directors and cinematographers from various geographies and backgrounds mirroring the makeup of the cosmopolitan city, coming together for a concept film. And what more the star-studded cast too, with big names amongst the lesser known ones all upping the ante through picture perfect performances, be it for the entire length of the short, or as a support to build upon. You can't deny the initial star-gazing in recognizing the notables, from Irrfan Khan to Natalie Portman (who also had writing and directing duties), Rachel Bilson (looking quite like Bardot) to Spielberg's blue eye boy Shia LaBeouf, who surprisingly can act, and shows off more in his few minutes here than his entire filmography to date.
Story wise, like any anthology, you'll find some which will automatically appeal to you, and with others that don't. Some are straightforward in nature, while others have to come up with gimmicky twists that thankfully worked. But these 10 stories plus 1 (because Randall Balsmeyer was given duties to integrate everything together for a more organic feel instead of just plain pick up shots of lesser known areas and established landmarks) somehow lacked the more “anything goes” spirit from its predecessor, with stories more rooted in reality, compared to some fantastical elements in the previous film (Elijah Wood's dalliance with a vampire anyone?), or even less adventurous with its narrative style (Christopher Doyle's, and Tom Tykwer's starring Natalie Portman). Here it seemed that the filmmakers opted very much for safe, with none venturing into that spirit of adventure and experiment.
Minor quibbles aside, I still enjoyed almost all the shorts here, contrary to what many others have felt about it. The short film format is still very much alive, and having them strung together into a feature under the Cities of Love banner works fine, and left me wondering which other cities are or have been included in its lineup. I am hoping that perhaps the franchise will catch on and spread its influence here. We surely have enough prolific filmmakers to be stringing together a Singapore, I Love You, so here's crossing my fingers that maybe something will materialize down the road. Otherwise there's always the Sawasdee Bangkok route of just making it without any attachments to franchise house rules.