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Elixir of Love

Miriam Yeung and Richie Ren in Elixer of Love.
Year: 2004  
Director: Riley Yip Kam-Hung  
Producer: Doris Tse, Jin Zongqiang  
Writer: Riley Yip Kam-Hung  
Cast: Richie Ren, Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Kenny Bee, Eric Kot Man-Fai, Lam Suet, Zhou Nan, Zhou Liang, Wu Qianqian, Liu Hengyiu, Alex Fong Lik-Sun
The Skinny: Totally fluffy and more than a little uneven, Elixir of Love is still an entertaining, beautifully-shot comedy. Miriam Yeung and Richie Ren are an appealing couple, and the film provides more than its fair share of charm, if not actual cinematic quality.
by Kozo:
     More pre-packaged Lunar New Year crap for the masses! Elixir of Love features attractive popstars, a fluffy premise, and oodles of feel-good laughs—a virtual blueprint for standard Lunar New Year fare. Miriam Yeung and Richie Ren are the popstars, the premise is a fairy tale about a princess and a pauper, and the laughs are a patchwork of minor satire, benign physical comedy, and tired bathroom humor. For director Riley Yip (Just One Look, Metade Fumaca), this seems like a real step down. However, Elixir of Love also features wonderful production design, and beautifully-photographed scenery that simply leaps from the screen. The actors themselves are fun too, and generate good screen chemistry. Elixir of Love is far from an ace motion picture experience, but the minor charm and genial tone makes for a suitably fluffy diversion.
     Miriam Yeung is the Princess of China, the first female in a long line of royal male offspring, thus making her a precious commidity. However, she stinks. Cursed with something called SARS (Severe Atypical Reeking Syndrome), the Princess' B.O. is enough to send any and all suitors running or to a self-imposed early demise, despite the fact that she's sweet, charming, and looks like Miriam Yeung. At a loss for solutions, the Emperor offers up a contest: to have doctors, mystics and/or assorted quacks show up in an attempt to cure the Princess of her smelliness, the prize for their efforts being the Princess' actual hand in marriage and presumed favored status in the capital. Not surprisingly, many apply.
     However, the contest comes down to two possible suitors: a cultured, snobby, RHA (Royal Hospital Authority) approved doctor (Liu Heng), and poor, too-cute aromatherapy expert Kai (Richie Ren). The other doctor has the head royal physician (Kenny Bee) in his corner, and the two conspire to let their success forward the cause of cultured, snobby doctors everywhere. However, neither is as talented or earnest as Kai, whose love of plants and single-minded aromatherapy expertise is all geared to do just one thing: fulfill his lifelong deam of marrying a princess.
     Both contestants are given three months to find a solution, so Kai goes in search of smelly people on whom to test his experiments. His nose leads him to the local fish market, where he meets a trio of smelly fish hawkers (including Lam Suet and Eric Kot), as well as their cheery co-worker Heung (also Miriam Yeung, hmmm), who also smells pretty bad. Thanks to instant attraction, Heung offers to become Kai's primary test subject, and soon the two are searching high-and-low to find a way to cure the Princess of what ails her. Kai has no idea that Heung is a dead ringer for the Princess because he's never seen her, and despite showing obvious signs of affection for Kai, Heung never seems to protest that his efforts are supposed to aid another woman. The reason why is because, duh, Heung and the Princess are one and the same, a plot twist which offers zero surprise whatsoever.
     However, a twisting narrative did not seem to be writer-director Riley Yip's intention with this film. Clearly, he didn't intend Heung's actual identity to fool anyone, and if someone out there was actually fooled, they should seriously consider a cure for their ADD. If anything, Elixir of Love is merely what it appears to be: an overly-genial, totally harmless piece of fluff, which means there's something in here for everyone. Aside from the requisite popstars, the film also features a mixed-bag combination of bathroom humor (character flatulence gets lots of airtime), minor satire (the RHA and the SARS references), and occasional pratfalls (Heung and Kai first meet when she falls on him with a big fish on her back). Such a slight cinematic exercise is surprising from Yip, whose films have generally been more quirky, and more overtly concerned with Wong Kar-Wai-esque emotions. Elixir of Love seems to eschew that and deliver something else: standard Lunar New Year fare, which in the hands of most directors equals an average, predictable, cloying time at the movies.
      Thankfully, Elixir of Love qualifies as slightly more than average Lunar New Year fare, in some part due to the actors. Richie Ren and Miriam Yeung are both charming, likable perfomers who share good screen chemistry, and the storyline of this film does not require extended sequences of histrionic mugging from either. Instead, situations and minor interplay carry the film, meaning we get lots of sequences where Kai and Heung simply spend time in frame together, sans any scenery chewing. This is an especially good thing, because the scenery of Elixir or Love is absolutely beautiful. Production designer Yee Chung-Man and cinematographer Chan Chi-Ying earn their paychecks and then some; Elixir of Love is a pleasure to simply look at, from the costumes to the sets to every inch of greenery which exists in frame. Considering the audience cannot smell the aromas that Kai is supposedly cooking up, giving us bright colors and pretty pictures to look at is an appreciated visual equivalent.
      Riley Yip's 2000 film Lavender also explored the subject of aromatherapy, which leads us to ask the question: what about smelling stuff is such a big deal for this guy? Elixir of Love does not provide any answers about Yip's olfactory obsessions, but it does extend his streak of films presenting love as idealized and desired, even if it's fleeting, impossible, or just in memory. Elixir of Love is most especially suited to that theme, as it's a fairy tale. Ergo, the ending is automatically happy, and true love can be found without any sort of "Yeah, right!" exclamations from the cynics in the audience. And really, this is not a movie for cynics or those expecting Comrades, Almost a Love Story. Elixir of Love is easy-to-please audience-oriented moviemaking, and it does the job better than some of its counterparts (i.e., Magic Kitchen and Protégé de la Rose Noire, to name two other 2004 Lunar New Year entries). It's pleasing, likable stuff for undemanding audiences—but Yip hasn't forgotten about his core following entirely. For sharper audiences out there, Yip even throws in a minor Wong Kar-Wai reference to keep them happy. (Kozo 2004) 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mega Star / Media Asia
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Trailers, "Making of" featurette, Music Video

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen