Saturday, February 28, 2009

If You Are The One (Fei Cheng Wu Rao / 非诚勿扰)

Are You The One

I'm a keen admirer of versatile Chinese director Feng Xiaogang and am a fan of his films, which covers quite a vast range from War (Assembly), Period martial arts (The Banquet), and a good old thriller in A World Without Thieves, amongst others in his filmography. I've yet to watch something that had disappointed, and his latest romantic drama If You Are The One starring long time collaborator Ge You and Shu Qi, proves to be yet another understated film that deserves a larger audience, if not for the limited number of screens (two only) in Singapore.

Ge You plays Qin Fen, whom we are introduced as a one-time inventor of a product called the Conflict Resolution Tool, which got sold to a venture capitalist for millions. With his new found wealth, he decided to focus on settling down, and follows the recent trend of finding a suitable companion over the internet. Here's where the humour comes in, not in slapstick fashion, but through the earnest ways he presents himself with honesty, starting from his online profile which lists a number of his ordinary points quite upfront. Ge You is again at his element here, and he continues to surprise how he internalizes his roles, be it the grandeur of an emperor, or a straight-talking neighbour next door.

Needless to say the best bits were in the first half, where like The 40 Year Old Virgin he goes on a schedule of blind dates after more blind dates, meeting countless of women with plenty of side agendas except settling down. His surprise comes in the form of Shu Qi's Xiaoxiao, because nobody would seriously expect a babe to hook up with someone through online means, given no lack of suitors already queuing up in the real world. I can trust a story written by Feng Xiaogang in that he crafts his characters with believability, and here he captures perfectly the essence of the dilemma of a middle aged man looking for a love partner. Knowing a below average Joe would never be able to hold onto a relationship with a princess, given lack of funds, looks and power, Qin Fen passes up the chance quite honestly, but forms a firm friendship with Xiaoxiao.

I guess Shu Qi's almost automatic first choice for a female lead role in a romantic film, having been seen very recently opposite Andy Lau in Look For A Star. While that role is a little more vivacious, her character here is a little more subdued, though no less glamourous as a stewardess with Hainan Air. Again she convinces with a credible performance of a woman who has this tremendous emotional baggage of being in love with a married man, who for obvious reasons cannot commit to her, nor wanting to let her go. She epitomizes Selfishness to the maximum, especially when deciding to trade and negotiate a relationship while knowingly still having a place in her heart for someone else, although credit given that she's upfront about it.

What I particularly enjoyed about the film is its examination into seeking love through online means, where one has got to go through arduous ego-inflating profiles trying to seek out somebody for a blind date, which can turn out to be a tad disappointing when real life doesn't meet expectations set, no matter how small that is. The story excels, and is one of the key strengths of the film is in highlighting this disappointment. One can be magnanimous and make the best of the situation, or try to pull the plug as early as you can so as not to lead the other person on, or to waste everyone's time. It's all about having a little chance and taking risk at every possible opportunity presenting itself, and disappointments being just part and parcel of the process, especially when you have little brought to the table.

Blessed with rich cinematography thanks to great locales in both China and in Hokkaido, Japan, look out too for plenty of cameos especially the blind dates that Qin Feng meets, the best (to me) was the short appearance of Vivian Hsu, who highlights once again some of the prejudices that any male would probably subscribe to as well. If there was a gripe, that will be the last scene which was quite unnecessary and too tacky, even though it was trying to make a not too subtle reference and statement to the real world financial crisis now, and the confidence to have in the Chinese financial system.

I would only say to try not to miss this film despite the limited screens and timings, because this is certainly one movie that is worth its weight in gold. For those who cannot make it to the cinemas, the DVD is already out now, so you might just want to own it instead. Highly recommended, and goes into my shortlist of contenders for that end of year top movies list!

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