It Sure Is Beautiful
Can Andrew Lau, better known for his Infernal Affairs movies, cop dramas and action films, deliver an outright romantic movie? Sure, as A Beautiful Life shows, although riddled with enough genre cliches compensated by an amazing timeline for the narrative to develop, more than watching a couple develop in thier love for each other from a chance meeting until the standard happy ending - it's meant for the Chinese market after all, so I suppose it has to stay within the confines that all will be well no matter how bleak everything can become.
As far as romantic movies go, this one's pretty ambitious in its timeline and narrative development, that it is almost akin to watching the natural progression of a relationship that worked, although for a romantic film, you'd sort of figure a life threatening disease kicking in at some point in order to play up the main theme of sacrifice, a cornerstone for something unconditional. In a tale of two halves, it shows how one party demonstrates that level of care and concern for the other, before tables get turned in almost a reciprocal manner, though you might add that one of the two probably drew the shorter end of the stick.
Another Hong Kong-China co-production, A Beautiful Life follows the life of Li Peiru (Shu Qi in her umpteenth romantic role of her career), a real estate agent who's perpetually drunk, in a relationship with her married boss in the hopes that she can stay in Beijing and lead the life of a tai tai. Well not quite, since she's emotionally miserable almost all of the time. She chances upon Fang Zhendong (Liu Ye), an honest cop who's the immaculate do-gooder, all round Chinese hero of sorts who inevitably falls for the free spirited lass.
As subplots to beef up the narrative, there's the brotherly love between Zhendong and his autistic brother Zhencong (Tian Liang) where the latter is also engaged in his own romantic dalliances with the mute girl Xiaowan (Feng Danying), where this almost blissful couple is in stark contrast to the more testy one between Peiru and Zhendong. And when I mean testy, it's that perennial test of trust and leap of faith where Zhendong goes against the warnings of his blind confidante (played by Anthony Wong no less) when Zhendong coughs out hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor Peiru's dream of opening up her own shop.
Seriously, the movie really dragged on and the finale was something that failed to man up, opting for the cop out to sooth audience's expectations rather than to follow through with its own intent involving unfortunate demise. Perhaps it really played to the points of one not having to be afraid when being with the one you love, or if you were to want to read it a little deeper, it's a socio-political suck up made where China stands as big brother despite its flaws, looking after the rogue entities who embrace various frowned upon vices, only to be seen ever ready to embrace them back into the fold, and show them the route to eternal happiness as one big family.
What made this work though happened to be the incredible chemistry between Shu Qi and Liu Ye especially, playing stock characters with aplomb that made their romance believable. One of the scenes that stood out was an incredibly long, single take where the duo had to walk down an extended walkway, one being piss drunk while the other constantly being that pillar of support, engaging in honest conversation that I would have shuddered to think about the effort that went behind making this one take possible. Cinematography was also top notch in this film capturing the hustle and bustle of the city, in contrast against the more serene villages, though this should come as no surprise given the director's background.
The Chinese title for A Beautiful Life underwent a change from the literal translation of the English title, to the more oomph filled one that reads a vow not to let the other party be lonely. And in some ways it's a more fitting title given the way things progressed between the characters in their give and take, and ambitious melodrama in wanting to cover the different stages, progression and development in a couple's love life. And that with their family as well.