Friday, July 08, 2011

Mr and Mrs Single (隐婚男女 / Yin Hun Nan Nv)

Married, Not!

It is without a doubt that the Chinese market is growing with screens booming across China, that the market just cannot be ignored, requiring stories to be told that's geared toward consumers there, so much so that we're staring at many more co-productions from the other Pan-Chinese countries, or productions on the Mainland boasting cast and crew from established industries such as Hong Kong. There are some narrative restrictions that come with the territory with regards to certain negative portrayals on screen, and in this case it turned out to be smoking, where the act itself cannot be seen, but implicitly told through butt filled ash trays.

Negativity aside, the Romantic Comedy genre seemed one of the easiest to port over, especially when what you need are gorgeous looking people which the Chinese talent are no lack of to grace the screen, put into plenty of formulaic stories that the genre can cough up in a dime a dozen fashion. Compromises will have to be made of course, such as keeping things extremely clean, but what I thought is an inevitable pattern forming and an inherent quality of a romantic film in this part of the world, is the selling of a dream, and an affluent lifestyle at that, especially given the growing economic might of China, which always get worked into the plot.

Things like sprawling skyscrapers, swanky offices, large limousines, and people in high positions up the career ladder become the template in which to craft the romantic comedy. We already had Don't Go Breaking My Heart involving a love triangle between professionals and CEO types, and the same continues in Mr and Mrs Single, where Rene Liu's Mandy, a mean boss of a perfume company, gets caught up with a growing affection for her newly minted executive assistant Mike Cui, played by Eason Chan. It is a familiar cousin of sorts with resemblance to The Devil Wears Prada, with a renowned and demanding boss being such a man-eater, that it is a requisite that her assistants must be single, since they're expected to be at her beck and call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

But Mike Cui is married to Jenny (Bai Bing), which sets the premise of one needing to keep secrets from one's boss, and initially, one's wife as well. It started off with good intentions, as Mike is adamant in wanting to provide both necessities and luxuries for his wife, and decided to take on the job after persistent goading from his best friend (Harlem Yu), since the job pays more than double Mike's current salary. It's a lifestyle that the yuppie couple yearns, and therefore the price to pay where later on, Jenny gets in on the game, and has to suppress her jealousy when it is perceived Mike has to place Mandy on the pedestal, and not herself, investing too much time with his lady boss rather than to spend quality time together as husband and wife.

Therein lies the strength of the film where it serves as a stark reminder of China, and our relentless pursuit of economic goals and materialism, where money is the be all to end all, where things like family time, friendship and priorities all get muddled up tremendously. And curiously though between the couple Mike and Jenny, their little marital hiccups get resolved through shopping sprees, therefore never nipping the crux of any issue in the bud, but glossed over through, you guessed it, consumerism. Which naturally spells trouble, as the fights get bigger and fiercer as the story wore on, especially since when Jenny relies on the usual grapevine and well-meaning "advice" from self help books and friends.

In some ways the scriptwriters Ru Xiaoguo and Ha Zhichao subtly bridges one relationship while widening the gulf in the other, though always keeping things just at the edge of a reveal since Mike is constantly treading on dangerous ground, painting himself a foundation made up of a lie on which his career gets built upon, and in doing so, plunges his family into marital woes. It's all about the priorities in one's life, and that stark mental note that one could possibly be happier with less rather than more, especially if more comes with a price that we only learn is too big, too late. Recommended, even though at times we're dealing with caricatures and rushed subplots, but gets more than made up for with its moral message.

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