Thursday, December 06, 2012

[ScreenSingapore] The Wedding Diary II (结婚那件事之后 / Jie Huen Na Jian Shi Zhi Hou) (World Premiere)

There's Always Room for Product Placement

The Wedding Diary turned out to be a sleeper hit earlier this year during the Lunar New Year season, combining filmmaking talent in front of and behind the camera from territories expected to be its target audience such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. It was the romantic comedy that was relatively sincere in its treatment of the woes and stress brought about by the relationship of a mismatched couple, with actors Ah Niu and Elanne Kwong in their best roles yet, sharing a seamless and endearing chemistry that justified its success.

And with success comes the need for a sequel in the business sense, which with filmmaking sensibilities come an opportunity to expand its established storytelling technique to examine the issues in a couple's life post-wedding, especially with a tiny tot introduced into the mix. But alas the business acument in filmmaking won out, and turned this follow up into nothing more than an excuse to become a walking advertisement, disregarding its strengths from what made the first film a hit. Goodwill from the first film got thrown out, and replaced by corporate consumerism that would even make Jack Neo beam with pride that his product placement necessity is slowly gaining traction amongst the local filmmaking community.

It's one thing arguing that one needs a big budget courtesy of sponsors to make a film, but it's another to trade off basic filmmaking integrity for it, especially if scenes got inserted for none other than to hard sell a product. It may be OK if the product serves a purpose in the movie, no matter how big or small, but another when scenes get written specifically for a sequence that's nothing than an advertisement. Take for instance, a character in the movie walking into a departmental store, looking for gifts, only to engage in banter with a stilted salesperson and both engaging in exhalting the strengths of a VIP member, whipping out a VIP card, and then confirming things like free delivery. What gives?

Outside of this blatant product placement, The Wedding Diary II also seemed to have regressed in its treatment of the romantic comedy genre, with little romance - which may seem to be a real life parallel of some couples lives when work stress and the baby comes along - and little comedy too, mostly confined to the first half of the film before being bogged by its own unnecessary melodrama no thanks to the introduction of a new character, a girl from Taiwan played by Wang Xinru, self-proclaiming to be the illegitimate daughter of wealthy scion Colin Chong (Zhu Houren), added to the star-studded principal cast all returning from the original film.

Based on a story by executive producer Lim Teck of Clover Films and director Adrian Teh who returns to helm this episode, the film actually got off to a bright start, summarizing everything positive about what made the first film tick in the initial 10 minutes. We see Wei Jie (Ah Niu) quitting his job to become a house-husband / male nanny (well, he can afford to anyway since his condominium has been fully paid up by his tycoon father-in-law) to his infant kid Chua Heng Guan (sounds like a Bak-Kwa company name) aka BBB, wife Zhi Xin (Elanne Kwong) having to assume chairperson-ship of her father's company due to his stroke, and the necessity to keep his health condition under wraps lest stock prices tumble and key investors, suppliers and partners break off long standing relationships due to an industrial accident in China that threatens to fold up the company.

Wait a minute, isn't this supposed to be about early parenthood and its challenges? Well, yes, in a way it is, with its focus at times on scenes immediately after the wedding to return back to reality, and the daily grind of work. Paternity leave didn't exactly occur here, more like a leave of absence from work, with Wei Jie going through early infant care issues, and Zhi Xin having to grapple with breasfeeding. It could have dealt a lot more with a side-splitting take in the run up to the nine-month pregnancy, but all these got breezed through fairly quickly in kitschy fashion, and before you know it, the narrative took on a vastly different direction.

While the first film had the leads dominating in scenes, here they spend a lot of time apart, and when they come together it's usually for an unconvincing fight. There were a lot more plot elements up its sleeve but these served only catalysts to put speed bumps in the couple's lives, before being forgotten when moving on. Such as Zhi Xin spending time in a karaoke joint with a touchy-feely customer, and Wei Jie in the same location for a celebration, leading to the perennial misunderstanding of sorts. Marcus Chin got an expanded role this time with his story-arc taking him out from Penang and to Singapore to spend more time with his grandson, but as far as the intent prepped for that father-and-daughter-in-law clash turned out to be nothing more than disagreements during feeding time. It's pretty much ado about nothing with the kampung spirit clashing head on with the modern affluent lifestyle.

And the story and screenplay, written by Rebecca Leow, had its fair share of clunky, illogical, and unintentionally funny moments, such as the scene where an ill Colin Chong had to be discharged from hospital amid the media frenzy, with the nurse being none too helpful in offering alternatives. Then there's the story arc for Wang Xinru's character, which is the addition to the ensemble, but offering an illogical and unnecessary plot development if only to highlight how we only treasure things when we lose them. But I would have advised to check the criminal penalty being the stunt being pulled, if not to move this film toward heavy melodrama much like any Taiwanese soap opera.

The best part of the film? Chapman To. The Hong Kong comedian makes a cameo appearance as a director in town working on a production (with the likes of Mindee Ong as a slutty actress), and his combination opposite Ah Niu would serve as THE best scene in the entire film. Which is a pity of course, given that this out of the ordinary sequence, undoubtedly put in to boost the star power of the movie, turned out to trounce everything else that the film proper had to offer. Which says a lot.

Technically the film had a wee bit of flaws, such as in its subtitles, which popped up Chinese only subs, or Chinese-Malay subs in lieu of the usual Chinese-English ones, no doubt mixed up by those meant for its overseas territories. On the whole The Wedding Diary II is a pale shadow of its much superior predecessor, but given some weeks between now and its lucrative Lunar New Year and Valentine's Day release, there is still some time to tighten the story and pacing, such that this film wouldn't feel longer than the two hours it wasn't.

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