It's quite deliberate that I had spent the most parts of yesterday afternoon and earlier this morning criss-crossing Hennessy Road, since I'm staying very nearby that major stretch in Hong Kong island, so that perchance I may recognize some of the landmarks that get captured in writer-director Ivy Ho's latest film which is one of two that opened the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Suffice to say that I don't recognize a whole lot of the landmarks, since it does stretch for quite a bit, though I did pass by that Cha Chan Teng (HK Tea House) that got featured in the film. More on that later.
The last Ivy Ho film I caught was Claustrophobia at Tokyo two years back (also a World Premiere), which I had enjoyed with its rather unconventional narrative and storyline which dealt with office romantic dalliances, with moments that were brilliant in making you reflect. Here she's gone for something more conventional and light-hearted, but that doesn't mean those reflective moments were forgotten. She brings back two actors to the silver screen and no doubt being the highlight of the film - Tang Wei of Lust, Caution fame makes a comeback of sorts, and stars opposite Jacky Cheung, who had recently returned to film (the other being 72 Tenants of Prosperity sharing the limelight with a lot of people), and both bring a little something to the table if not already making you want to root for their characters to overcome their predicament.
Ivy Ho continues to craft characters which are easily to identify with, and the actors being really natural in fleshing them to life. Jacky Cheung plays Loy, an average Joe who is resigned to coasting through life, being perpetually able to sleep anywhere, often interacting with his deceased dad (Lowell Lo) when in dreamland, and have problems getting out of bed in the morning. He's pushing past 40, yet is heavily reliant on his aunt (played by Zhu Mimi) as a primary welfare care-giver to the entire family (and seems a better mom than Loy's vain pot own, played by Paw Hee-Ching) and works in his mother's electrical appliance shop. Tang Wei's Oi Lin is nicknamed the Toilet Bowl Xi Shi, for being the beauty working in a toilet fixtures shop run by her guardian uncle and aunt, who decided it's high time she got married and make it a point to set her up on dates, which she deliberately torpedoes her chances with really awful makeup.
The title comes about with each character living on either side of Hennessy Road, and while their initial meeting set up by the parents and relatives over a Tim Sum meal is anything but a success, they soon hit it off as friends after a disastrous beginning to their friendship, and are in the know that they each both have feelings for another significant other rather than each other. For Loy, its the complication with his ex girlfriend (played by Maggie Cheung Ho Yee) who's now divorced and looking toward him as the one she allowed to get away. In Oi Lin's case, it's the countdown to the day her violent and hot headed boyfriend Xu (Andy On) finally gets out of prison for assault, but knowing this relationship is one that her relatives had frown upon and once asked that she move on.
Relationships as we know can get complicated, and Ivy Ho like with her previous films examines such complication in depth, now looking at how we usually don't know when to call it quits in relations that are broken beyond repair, and whether to give oneself a fresh start rather than to stick with the old. For one, there's the feeling of being used and not appreciated, and for the other, that feeling of never being put into consideration and being more of an after-thought. What if someone else whom you click better with (based on the common affinity for crime and mystery novels) comes along, despite that generation gap, then what next? And for the macho guys out there, there's a little postscript that suggests that it may not be the knight in shining armor that is preferred, but one with a crazy sense of humour enough to make the lady laugh and chase the blues away.
And the story does have enough doses of laughter peppered throughout, more so based on sarcasm and wit which, if translated to Mandarin or read through the subtitles, may be lost in translation. Much of the mirth came from the supporting cast in Danny Lee, Zhu Mimi and Paw Hee-Ching as the elderly trio in Loy's family/business involved in a romantic triangle that seemed a little contrived especially with the way in how it ended, and always threatened to overshadow the other romances and even subplots in the film. I guess that's how with a veteran cast, as they have an air of charisma that does that naturally, especially with Paw Hee-Ching's over the top performance given her larger than life, and really loud, vain character.
However, the film for the most parts just seem to coast along and is narratively in parallel with Loy, in not wanting to commit, setting itself up to probe possibilities before deciding to finally close the loop. This of course sets it up for the audience to continue to root for Loy and Oi Lin to hook up together in a race against the clock, but the focus seemed to be elsewhere and everywhere but to lead one onto that possibility, which wants to take on the adage of "in good time" and when love sometimes strike you when you least expect that it will.
For those still unfamiliar with Hong Kong's tea culture, there are enough moments here that will enlighten with some (fictional?) elements of how it has evolved, and plenty of actual shots like an ode to the titular street. Look out too for some cameo roles that will add up to the fun that this film managed to bring about! If there's one question I will ask Ivy if I do get the chance, is that of her decision to be playful with the character played by Gill Mohindepaul Singh, who flits in and out of the film almost at will (bringing along some humour of course), just like how Wee Li Lin did in similar terms with her Gone Shopping.