Friday, February 15, 2013

Love... And Other Bad Habits

Does It Come In Black?

Produced by Mediacorp's new channel, this made for streaming movie struck gold when given an opportunity for a theatrical screening, and it was later announced that two different versions were playing, with alternate endings, so it's really something quite novel. Except that I don't expect that anyone would want to pay twice the price to watch the film again just for the finale. After all, it really does look too much like a typical local television production, meant for the small screen, with local television idiosyncrasies imprinted everywhere from sets to cast, against very familiar storylines.

Directed by Lee Thean-Jeen who was at the film Homecoming, and attached to the still stuck in development hell ambitious project 1965, Love... and Other Bad Habits is a tapestry of three relatively distinct short stories that rarely intertwine, telling stories obviously meant for the Valentine's Day period with plots that would appeal to a vast spectrum, from puppy love budding in schools, to that between co-workers at the workplace, and a relatively mature one amongst estranged spouses. It toed along the safe lines, and that made it rather average with little standing out, falling upon the usual cliches and comfort zones.

In the first tale, we go back to school with Kimberly Chia's Ann being the subject of pursuit by Ian Fang's Darrell, only for the latter to not admit it directly, but playing guessing games with the former through social media and phone technology of today. On one hand, during drama classes that he almost always make a scene out of, he displays nonchalance and disinterest in their Cyrano play, but once out of class, his boyish awkwardness gets in the way, tripping up most times when he's alone with her at the bus stops, resulting in silly runs home. Whether he will finally muster up some courage, identify and admit to being the pursuer, is what this story deals with.

Ann comes from a single parent family, which forms the second story. Her mom Mei (Zoe Tay) discovers that her ex-husband and Ann's dad Chin Wei (Chen Hanwei) is going to get married to Mei's best friend and rival all her life, Suzy (Kym Ng), and this causes a bit of confusion to everyone involved, especially when bridges weren't burnt, and everyone holding onto a candle for the other. Suzy obviously triumphs over everyone, and being quite oblivious to the emotional undercurrents, and it's up to Ann and more so JJ (Tan Shou Chen), Suzy's employee at her bridal shop, to step in to get everyone own up on their true feelings.

And the third tale, totally unrelated to the first except for the crossing of some characters in a very minor scene on the judging a book by its cover, deals with office romance between ad creative directors Mike (George Young) and Jess (Carmen Soo), who keep their relationship under wraps, only to find that their careers are at a crossroads - the ultimatum being one of them has to be let go, and promoted at the expense of another, if they can clinch the Spa deal with Mrs Cheng Cheng (Irene Ang). So it's a battle of the sexes, and seeing their professional aspirations being that road block in their budding relationship, whether it's career or love that's priority.

The characters aren't any less than cardboard in all the different segments, but at least this film doesn't admit to being anything more than it isn't, and there's nothing wrong in delivering a mediocre film done right. It may have touted itself to be one of the first films in having best friends Zoe Tay and Chen Hanwei cast opposite each other as lovers, with Tan Shou Chen almost always stealing the scene, if not for his rather cliched effeminate role here that's stereotypical and typecast. Some fantasy elements persists, and characterization was somewhat weak throughout, especially Kimberly Chia's character who may seem a little bit too mature and perfect for her age, again with many characters lapsing into feel-good, cardboard and one dimensional.

Zoe Tay's inevitable transformation from plain Jane to glamour puss was probably the only character shift, with Ian Fang's Darrell being someone who just decided to drop pretence and his cool-like-that facade. George Young and Carmen Soo were trying too hard to convince they were lovers, and most fun came from their war-of-the-roses type of rivalry where misunderstandings continue to mount as their relationship begins to deep dive into the doldrums. And with its ensemble cast, not everyone were given equal opportunity with their roles, such as Kym Ng's whose Suzy could have gone uber bitchy, or played the sympathetic card.

Still, this is meant to be a lightweight, feel good film for the Valentine's season, with its rather muted publicity about an alternate ending being the only trump card that could have convinced the curious to give it a go. Being a original production, let's see when both versions would appear on the platform it was developed for, and hopefully gain a much larger audience from there.

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