Friday, March 23, 2012

Love Lifting (高舉‧愛 / Gao Ju Ai)

Does That Weigh A Lot?

One of the key reasons to visit the Hong Kong International Film Festival is to be able to watch some of the latest films coming out of the territory in its native language, otherwise should they make it here they will first have to be unceremoniously dubbed, and lose some of the bona fide flavour that comes with it. So besides those playing during the festival, and this year surprisingly only had a limited handful with the rest being (to Asians) re-runs, I had to venture outside of the festival to sneak a peek at what's available theatrically. And if there's Herman Yau, arguably one of the most hardworking filmmakers to date with a filmography that's extremely diverse, at the helm of a romantic tale, I thought to myself, why not?

Wait a minute, Herman Yau? Love story? Believe it people, the director has a knack for it as well, even if the story is a little derivative of many romances out there, but trust Yau's experience to pull through a film in this genre. Leading the cast are Chapman To and up and coming star Elanne Kwong, who had been to Malaysia/Singapore recently for The Wedding Diary in which she played the main lead. Here they play Shek Yung and Li Li respectively, with Herman Yau as writer-director in this plain and simple tale where two people at the crossroads of their lives find their fate intertwined, and together forged through along the common road ahead. And I am as adamant about romances being able to work only as romantic comedies or tragedies, and this one didn't disappoint any bit in sticking to that expected formula.

And in case you didn't already know, this romance film as the sport of weightlifting being featured, but no worries for those not inclined to the sport because it doesn't go beyond the usual training montage, nor bore you to death if you can't tell the difference between the Snatch, and the Clean and Jerk categories. The athlete in quesiton here is "strong girl" Li Li, whose diabetes forces her to quit the sport and the Chinese national team. In making a living she moves to Hong Kong and outsources her strength to furniture movers, who see her as competition in her frequent undercutting of what they cannot do with more men. In one of these moves she helps her new neighbour Shek Yung with his furniture, and inevitably becomes the centre of his attraction.

In a story that's narrated in retrospect of 6 years by Chapman's Shek Yung, we take a look back at a time when both characters are at their lowest point, with Li Li unable to find meaningful work and being ousted for a sport she dedicated her life to, and Shek Yung folding his pub business and finding it increasingly tough to pay his ex-wife alimony. But despite her hardships, Li Li maintains a very positive outlook which Shek Yung finds attractive and soon enough they fall in love, get married, have a kid (!) through an extended subplot about risks involved, and through constant encouragement, Li Li finds her way back to weightlifting under a new coach who believes in her abilities

Yes, the story does fast forward in that breakneck speed to talk about family, and how a couple in marriage have to make compromises for one of them to fulfill their dreams and desires. It's not always an ideal situation given that there's no win-win, but it achieved a perfect harmony, despite what neighbours love to gossip about with Shek Yung having to look after a kid and become a househusband, and his wife crossing the border to train and bring home the bacon. If anything, the lessons here is to remind us how acidic unwarranted comments and rumours can become, andf what other families do, so long as they're happy, is really somebody else's business and not anyone else's.

Chapman To excels in playing one of the many laidback roles he had played to date, such that he's believable in stepping into the role of Shek Yung without difficulty nor challenge. He's the go-to guy for everyday Joe characters, but I think filmmakers ought to give him a break from playing roles that require him to be an ex-husband and being riddled with alimony (eg. Mr and Mrs Gambler, Vulgaria, and here). It's quite unlike Elanne Kwong, who has to shed her pretty lass image to play a relatively average looking plain Jane, and I suppose bulking up her muscle mass is out of the question for just one film unless she's considering a change in careers. You got to nod in the direction of the make up artists and costumers in trying their utmost best in concealing her lack of obvious muscular tone through realy baggy everyday clothes to give the illusion of bulk, and decking her out in competitive sports attire to look heavy-set.

With the likes of Tien Niu playing a landlady and Izz Tsui as her son to add colour to the straightforward plot, Love Lifting doesn't offer too many surprises except for what I thought was a somewhat toned down Yau-moment for blood, gore and violence, that was seen coming as the scene got introduced, and jut had to be done to shake things up just a little bit, otherwise this tale would bore even the most forgiving fans of the romantic genre. It's no classic, but for fans of Chapman To and Elanne Kwong, it's another feather in the cap, and for the latter, another opportunity to showcase some acting chops and potential to one day stage a breakthrough.

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