Friday, June 8th, 2007
As my hot flight attendant girlfriend is away (probably out two-timing me), I’ve got nothing to do but walk Tobias, my imaginary dog, come home, make some horribly expensive coffee, put on a Faye Wong CD and cook myself some instant noodles after putting on a wig and my late wife’s dress. With all that done, I have some time on my hands to share some thoughts on IT HAD TO BE YOU.
IT HAD TO BE YOU
Directors: Andrew Lo Wang-Hin, Maurice Li Ming-Man
Cast: Karena Lam Ka-Yan (Jill), Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin (Jack), Eric Tsang Chi-Wai (Jason), Harvey Hu Bing (Chi On), Bobo Chan Man-Woon (Grace), Nicola Cheung Sun-Yu (Moon), Kiki Sheung Tin-Ngor (Jill’s Mom)
PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: After watching a slate of “Chinese epics made for the international market”, a depressing Ann Hui film and a decent attempt at a classic HK action film, I was ready for something light. My OMNI-2 “Super Cinema Night” recording of IT HAD TO BE YOU seemed to fit the bill. IT HAD TO BE YOU is an UFO film so you have to expect a star-studded cast, interesting characters, a solid story, great production values and a glossy urban setting. After all, UFO is responsible for some films that I look back upon fondly: HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY FATHER (a classic starring the two Tony Leungs), LOST AND FOUND and the under-appreciated AND I HATE YOU SO. Of course, UFO has had their share of misfires — like TWELVE NIGHTS and LAVENDER — but, generally speaking, the UFO label means quality HK romance/drama just like the Milkyway label means quality HK action/drama.
AFTER THE MOVIE: IT HAD TO BE YOU turned out to be one of those middling films that’s somewhat disappointing but not particularly vexing. It doesn’t lend itself to penetrating analysis so, instead of a full-blown review, I’m just going to write some bullet points on stuff I liked and didn’t like then wrap everything up with a few words.
- Karena Lam Ka-Yan doing the cute schtick. If you like Karena Lam and you enjoy watching actresses doing the cute schtick then this is the film for you. From beginning to end, Lam has the “pedal to the metal” on the cute accelerator. This means, of course, that if you don’t like the cute schtick, then Karena Lam’s performance is going to grate on you. More on this later …
- Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin turns in a solid performance. As Kozo over at LoveHKFilm points out in his review, ol’ Noodle sheds his usual “thirtysomething teenager” persona for a mature, level-headed guy persona. This is a welcome development as “Mr. Badminton” turns 40 (40!) this year and watching him continue to play overgrown teenagers would be as disconcerting as watching Kevin Spacey, great as he is, play a twentysomething Bobby Darin in BEYOND THE SEA.
- Kiki Sheung Tin-Ngor gives a nice performance as Jill’s Mom. One thing about UFO Films, there are always some solid supporting characters and Kiki Sheung’s role is no different. By making Sheung’s character deaf, the filmmakers allowed for a nice variation on the typical “leading lady’s Mom” character. You’re probably tired of hearing me say this but seeing Kiki Sheung play a Mom in this film makes me feel old since I used to watch her play hot girl roles in 1980s TVB series.
After some time away, Sheung has rejoined TVB and can currently be seen with Cecilia Yip Tung, David Chiang Dai-Wai and Sheren Teng Sui-Man in the TVB series THE FAMILY LINK (師奶兵團). The series is being billed as a Hong Kong version of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.
- Bobo Chan Man-Woon makes a noble bid to join the likes of Kitty Ting Hao (THE GREATEST CIVIL WAR ON EARTH) and Valerie Chow Ka-Ling (CHUNGKING EXPRESS) in the Hong Kong Movie Hot Flight Attendants Hall of Fame. Lost in the crowd of young HK starlets, Chan retired from the entertainment circle in 2006. As evidenced by her role in this film and her ad for the MTR, it’s too bad because I thought she had an air of maturity to her that gave her a leg up on the bubbly, girly-girl types. For example, I wouldn’t scoff at the idea of Chan playing a lawyer like I would, did, when I heard Gillian Chung Yan-Tung was playing one in 49 DAYS. In case you were wondering, Chan is currently on a path taken by many of her HK starlet predecessors: involved in a relationship with some rich, business-type guy.
- Karena Lam doing the cute schtick. Like the fine line between love and hate and the fine line between genius and insanity, there’s a fine line between endearing and annoying. In this film, Karena Lam not only crosses that line, she leaves it a speck in the horizon of her rear-view mirror. When you combine the overdone cute act with character quirks like her penchant for charades and her imaginary dog Fluffy, her character loses the sympathy that a leading lady in a romance film needs. Instead of feeling bad for Jill’s plight as “the other woman”, all you’re thinking is that she’s a ditzy dope who deserves to be in the situation that she finds herself in.
- Ideas and setups that fizzle instead of sizzle. In addition to setting the cute meter for Karena Lam’s character at 100, IT HAD TO BE YOU is filled with plot points and setups that are intended to add charm and romance to the film but are so clearly calculated that it kills the mood instead of enhancing it. The three biggest offenders are:
- Jill’s imaginary dog. This bit really hurts the credibility of the Jill character and the damage that it does isn’t worth the payoff at the end.
- A sequence where Jack and Jill, unbeknownst to the other, sing to a Faye Wong at the same time. The scene is intended to show the audience that the two belong together because they have some sort of great cosmic synchronicity but, by this point in the film, everyone knows that already. As a result, it ends up being a piece of cinematic verbosity that disrupts the momentum of the movie.
- Eric Tsang Chi-Wai’s character in drag. This bit is supposed to set up Jack and Jill for an Oprah “Moment of Enlightenment”™ about life and love but it’s too forced and strained for it to be meaningful.
Just as every magic trick has a pledge, a turn and a prestige, every romantic comedy has a situation, a complication and, hopefully, a post-romantic comedy afterglow (a term coined by an old girlfriend from my university days describing the “toasty warm” feeling you get after a good romantic comedy). IT HAD TO BE YOU has an imaginative situation (two people who can be labeled the “third party” in a romantic triangle) but the complications are too laboured and contrived to amount to any post-romantic comedy afterglow. With Ekin Cheng, Karena Lam, Harvey Hu Bing, Nicola Cheung Sun-Yu and Bobo Chan in the cast, it’s a good film for stargazing but if you are hoping to get a romantic buzz, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
- When I used to eat French Fries, I liked them without ketchup. I usually ate them with some salt and some pepper. I’d always thought that slathering ketchup on a fry smothered the taste of potato making eating fries meaningless. I mean, would you listen to an iPod while you’re sitting in a theatre watching a movie?
Anyway, what does this portend for my love life? Does it mean that I actually don’t want love in my life? I guess I’ll have to head over to Temple Street some day and consult a fortune teller.
- Fire Lee Ka-Wing plays a character named “Fatty”. I hope it’s not because people think he’s fat but because Lam Chi-Chung (or someone of similar proportion) was originally cast for this role and the powers-that-be were too lazy to change the character’s name after Lam dropped out.
- The greatly under-appreciated CRAZY N’ THE CITY must have made a deeper impression on me than I thought because once I saw Yan Ng Yat-Yin, I half-expected Chloe Chiu Suet-Fei to pop up on the screen. I have an OMNI-2 recording of COCKTAIL (the Hong Kong movie, not the Tom Cruise one) lying around somewhere. It has both Chloe Chiu and Bobo Chan in it. I think that’s next up on the queue.
- Seeing Nicola Cheung Sun-Yu made me look up what’s she been up to since I got put on the DL. With no movie or TV credits since 2005, there are reports that she got a day job and supplements her income by doing ads and showing up at store openings and promotional events. There are also reports that she’s going to marry her rich boyfriend in October or November 2007. Then again, there’s also a report of her rich boyfriend out on the town with another woman.
- From the “Learn Something New Every Day” File: Lo Meng, my favourite entertainment circle muscle man, has an English name — Turbo. Jet, obviously, was already taken.
Image Credits: United Filmmakers Organization (IT HAD TO BE YOU), Cathay Organisation Holdings Ltd. (THE GREATEST CIVIL WAR ON EARTH), Jet Tone Production (CHUNGKING EXPRESS)