If You Are The One didn't enjoy too long a run at the local cinemas here, although it did make it to one of my favourites of the year 2009. I had reservations whether Chinese director Feng Xiaogang could make an outright romantic film despite being known for more big budgeted spectacles such as Assembly and the recent Aftershocks, and he had proven me wrong then. However, this first attempt at making a follow up film of his own didn't fare too well, bringing to mind if one doesn't have a proper and strong story to work on, then a sequel will never make sense.
What I found extremely charming in the first film, besides the point of pairing Ge You and Shu Qi opposite each other as unlikely lovers, in a sort of beauty and the beast, old cow versus tender grass situations, will be the tremendous amount of witticisms that Feng had put into his film, sharing delightful nuggets of jibes, sayings and idiosyncrasies of his observation of relationships and modern love. Yes there were some picturesque locations to sweeten the deal as well, but that was something secondary to the main plot, a backdrop serving as staple to all romantic films.
In this effort however, we flit from the Great Wall of China right down to Le Meridien's Shimei Bay Beach Resort in Hainan Island (note to self to must check this out one day) and to chic Beijing, only for the locales to become what's the highlight of the film, and the story taking a firm backseat. Not only that, the narrative was in really a tale of two halves, the first being a firm continuation from where we left off and tried to preserve plenty of positives from the original, but the second was somewhat a letdown as it dealt with a different kind of relationship in that of friendship between Ge You's Qin Fen and Sun Honglei's Xiangshan, the latter who is found to be suffering from an incurable disease.
There were plenty of scenes that didn't make much sense nor to further the plot, making the close to two hour film a really long plod to the finishing line. Starting with a Divorce Ceremony which was really unnecessary, there was a beauty pageant that you don't get to see many beauties, an after event rave party, a wine auction, and a farewell party which I think is the fad here even from Bollywood with its fairly recent Guzaarish. All these scenes serve little interest and purpose other than to announce to the world that China has arrived (check out that homage shot on the military's naval warship too), and to show off how ostentatious the filthy rich in China can truly be.
The lack of chemistry between Ge You and Shu Qi somehow took a really wrong turn here, and the differences in their characters really stood out, so much so that the best scenes here don't involve the lovebirds at all, which is a pity since their togetherness, or attempts at being together served as a highlight. When the same got treated here, it somehow rang into the familiar territory that the Twilight films possess, with the protagonists stuck in an endless Yes-No ("ai-mai") state of mind, with Qin Fen being adamant in wanting to make his trial marriage to Shu Qi's Xiao Xiao work but then spending most of their time throwing a tantrum, and the latter realizing that it's not actually love she's experiencing.
I do get the point Qin Fen is trying to make about eventually needing his wife to care for him since he's significantly older, but isn't this trial marriage plan nothing but a sham designed to stifle relationships, rather than to enhance it? We become caught up with a lot of what-if's instead of trying to live the now in life, and being lost in the many moments of indecision that come to plague a relationship that's just trying too hard to make it work. And what this couple were trying to dabble in, is in some ways uncanny to Nicholas Tse's love philosophy (ok, something which I read online) which deals with four stages from Passion, Romance, Family Love then Friendship, the latter most which is what Qin Fen and Xiao Xiao are trying to see if it will work, since the first two are likely to exist in the early stages of any relationship, and Family Love, well, being out of topic in this film.
This could be director Feng Xiaogang's unfortunate first dud and I hope there won't be another half-hearted attempt with his next, although the doors were blatantly thrown wide open for a possible follow up on this one. If that happens, then hopefully it'll bring back the magical charms of what made the first film tick, and banish this as a blip like those temporal hiccups found in almost all relationships.