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  Contract Lover  
  Chinese:

合約情人

Richie Ren and Fan Bing-Bing  
  Year:

2007

 
  Director:

Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting

 
  Producer:

Ng See-Yuen, Vivian Ng

 
  Cast: Richie Ren, Fan Bing-Bing, Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan, Yuen Wah, Ian Powers, Liu Yi, Liu Yi-Wei, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting  
  The Skinny: China-produced situation comedy that resembles the sloppy silliness of Hong Kong Cinema past. While not a notable motion picture, Contract Lover is at least moderately funny. Devotion to the stars is necessary however, because without that, Contract Lover is interminable and a waste of time.  
 
  Review
by Kozo:

Everything old is new again with Contract Lover, a messy, formulaic, and ultimately tolerable comedy from veteran director Alfred Cheung. Richie Ren stars as Fat, an investment banker in Beijing with an exceptionally progressive girlfriend. Kate Tsui is his girlfriend Rachael, who's headstrong, career-minded, and not averse to casual sex or *gasp* pole dancing as a form of recreation. Fat wants to marry her, but he's afraid that his conservative pop, Master Fok (Yuen Wah), will say no. How will Fat convince his parents to let him marry Rachael?

The answer: cheat. Fat and Rachael scheme to fool Master Fok by employing a fake girlfriend as a decoy, letting her draw all the parental ire so that Rachael can swoop in and win by default. Their choice for a decoy is the unemployed Joe (Fan Bing-Bing), a gorgeous gal who only looks frumpy because the filmmakers dress her in glasses and loose, unflattering sweaters. At first Joe appears to out of contention for fake girlfriend duty, but before long she's involved in a training montage, complete with beauty sessions and pole dancing lessons, the goal being to become even more progressive and forceful than Rachael, such that Rachael will appear quite tame by comparison.

Does the plan work? Honestly, who cares? We could pretend that there's a plot or story to be concerned with in Contract Lover, but we'd be kidding ourselves. Unsurprisingly, actual narrative suspense is not on offer here. This is a throwback comedy in that it makes no attempt at cleverness and seems hastily slapped together with only the requisite plot devices and barest of situations from which to wring hopeful comedy gold. Alfred Cheung does wring some amusement from his flimsy premise, but the hit-to-miss comedy ratio is probably 1:4, if not something worse. Really, this is tired, unoriginal stuff that requires the help of its cast and some audience goodwill to bring it above a low C grade. That's the big question here: can Alfred Cheung pull this patchwork film together such that audiences will feel a bit more charitable towards its unnecessary existence?

Well, Cheung partially succeeds, though the target was already low to begin with. Contract Lover is an average, low budget Chinese comedy, meaning it's crass, sloppy, and only occasionally funny. There's some decent situation stuff here, mostly involving Jo's attempts at shocking the locals with her progressive western ways. What this means is we get such questionably funny sights as the locals trying out pole dancing, or Fat's mom attempting to seduce Master Fok with some new lingerie. Joe's attempts at chicanery are largely unsuccessful, partly because Fan Bing-Bing doesn't convince as a selfish viper, but mostly because all the characters in the film are much nicer than advertised. Fat's mom is actually quite progressive, and Master Fok forgives Joe so many times that it's obvious that Fat's plan will never work. Basically, everything is manipulated such that the film's premise can be stretched out to over ninety minutes. The filmmakers achieve that goal, but the stretch marks do show.

Where the film does really pick up is with its unintentional humor, which elicits plenty of laughs or groans, depending on your tolerance and/or charity towards cheap Chinese comedy. One large joke involves Master Fok's rivalry with another martial arts school. You see, Fok is a descendant of Fok Yuen-Gap (or Huo Yuanjia, that guy from Fearless), and is due to have a big tournament with the descendants of Wong Fei-Hung. Six degrees of Jet Li aside, what's funny here is that Fok's main fighter gets injured and the replacement is Alex (Ian Powers), Joe's best buddy and the most amusing gay martial artist ever. Alex causes minor strife when he charms Fat's sister, which sends Fok's main martial arts fighter into a jealous rage. That means we get a perfunctory fight sequence that culminates in a hilariously bizarre homoerotic embrace. Powers overdoes his cartoonish role, but his gusto actually makes the film slightly more enjoyable. It's not quality stuff, but at least there are laughs on offer.

Does it save the whole film? Hardly. Stuff like Contract Lover is difficult to even evaluate because it's so ill-conceived and crass that one should basically knock the very institution that spawned it: quickie commercial cinema where quality was never intended at all. Mainland audiences - who are the target for this trifle - will likely find this to be a suitably lame time killer, so who are we to tell them that they're wrong? Fans of Fan Bing-Bing and Richie Ren will probably be charmed by the fact that the actors are game for these silly shenanigans, and will also forgive that the attempts at actual emotion are so flaccid that the filmmakers resort to a climactic flashback montage to remind audiences that the two characters may have shared a moment of connection sometime in the previous ninety minutes. Honestly, I didn't buy it, and most audiences probably won't either. Then again, the hope of quality is not why anyone would see Contract Lover. Keep that in mind when you tune in, and who knows, you might still be amused. However, it could be for entirely the wrong reasons. (Kozo 2007)

 
 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Chinese and English Subtitles
   

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