I reckon this to be more of a pissing contest amongst the contemporary crop of male singers from Greater China, and probably an in-thing to have oneself hyphenated with credentials that go beyond singer-songwriter, to include actor-writer-director. After all, Jay Chou has done it, so why not Wang Lee-Hom, since he too has gotten his feet wet and caught the acting bug with Lust, Caution and Little Big Soldier?
And it's no surprise too that Wang's directorial effort happens to be a story that deals with music, just like Chou's, where they play self-masturbatory type characters who are equally multi-talented with musical instruments, and can serenade a girl or two. And to make them look good as directors at the helm of their debut projects, why not go to Lee Pin Bing to lens the film as well, since the cinematographer has a slew of proven works ranging from the arty to the mass appeal films, and yes, both Secret and Love in Disguise looks great.
But then the storyline here is more of the usual cliche formula, which reads having the director/actor play a larger than life parody of himself in a leading role. Wang plays Du Ming-Han, or DMH as it's more hip to be known that way, a highly successful pop idol managed by the shrewd manager Joan (Joan Chen, Wang's co-star in Lust, Caution). En route to a party their limo-van knocks down a pretty gu-zheng playing lass Song Xiao Qing (Liu Yifei), and smitten by the aural orgasm she gives him when she teases with her instrument, DMH ropes in lead guitarist and henchman WZB (Chen Han Dian... seriously at this point I was waiting for CCB to turn up) to go undercover in disguise (hence the title) and enroll into the same Chinese orchestra school Xiao Qing is in, so that he can once again relive that orgasmic pleasure (talk about addiction)!
Which makes him see butterflies and stars, enough to inspire him to write a new song. But that's something for the final act. Instead, he has to grapple with snooty senior classical music students such as Mufan (Qiao Zhenyu) who lambasts manufactured pop idols like DMH, and worse, to know that the object of his desire/inspiration turns out to be infatuated with Mufan. Even then, DMH himself thinks Xiao Qing is just his aural soulmate meant to stimulate his senses, and nothing more, until the inevitable flying of sparks, where what's love gets to be quite messy in its revelation, before a climax that ended up with Song Qing being wet from head to toe. I kid you not.
As with all stories about disguises and secret identities, there is bound to be a scene where the two personas have to meet at a single venue, and it's no surprise that a rookie like Lee-Hom will opt for the same, having this scene played out purely for laughs. You may think I am making fun of his story, but fair enough, there were some nice touches from animation to comedy that the best were reserved to scenes where the director/actor goes into self-deprecating mode, showing he's not shy to laugh at himself, and the crazy world he lives in, where every move he makes is subject to scrutiny by his manager, fans and the media. Perhaps this film served as a pressure cooker release for him to let out some steam.
Liu Yifei on the other hand had scenes crafted for her to reprise her look and feel for the Little Dragon Girl role from television, and with films like The Forbidden Kingdom, this marks one of the first few forays she's taking to make the leap to the big screen. She may lack behind other contemporaries from the Mainland like Zhang Jingchu or Xu Jinglei, but I'm hedging my bets that she'll grow from strength to strength and we should see a more active filmography soon enough. Should anyone think of remaking A Chinese Ghost Story, she'll be an automatic shoo-in as Xiao Qian.
Love in Disguise isn't as bad as what others may have made it out to be the disaster it is not. Despite its formula, it still has enough to market itself as a romantic comedy suitable as a safe option for dating couples. And of course Wang Lee-Hom fans who should be making a beeline to support their idol's latest effort on celluloid both as an actor and more importantly, directing a film that's an exaggerated mirror of his idol lifestyle. Wonder if they see themselves amongst the faceless crowd that the singer don't really give two hoots about.