Cheng and Karena Lam are sparring would-be lovers
in It Had To Be You, an urban romantic
comedy from the long-missed United Filmmakers
Organization (UFO). Once upon a time, UFO made
it their mission to create intelligent Hong
Kong movies about people and relationships,
and not kung-fu action epics starring a variety
of now-retired actors and actresses. The plan
worked, but since HK Cinema is now largely composed
of movies about people and relationships, the
sudden appearance of a UFO-branded film brings
higher expectations. Certain signifiers do need
to exist: urban trappings, upscale characters,
and slightly overdone existentialism among them.
However, given UFO's past pedigree, the movie
also has to be good. Hell, given the current
state of HK Cinema, it NEEDS to be good. Anything
less would be a disappointment.
Jack (Ekin Cheng)
and Jill (Karena Lam) are partners at workand
on the short end of the relationship stick.
Though the two meet and spar in grand screwball
romantic comedy style, this pair of attractive
would-be lovers shares an unfortunate romantic
situation: both qualify as "the other guy/girl."
In Jill's case, she's stuck in a backup relationship
with bohunk doctor Chi On (Hu Bing, who looks
like a thicker, studly version of Tony Leung
Ka-Fai). She knows she's the other gal, but
deep down she's sure that Chi On will come around
and make her his one and only. Meanwhile, Jack
is still smarting over the revelation that longtime
gal Bobo Chan is seeing a bohemian airline pilot
(Hayama Go). Actually, she was seeing him BEFORE
she started seeing Jack, a factoid he was unaware
of until only recently. Jack and Jill may start
off not liking one another, but given their
shared romantic plight, they have to be made
for each other, right?
Of course they
are! However, we're the audience, so we know
that already. In the heavily glossy world of
It Had To Be You, Jack and Jill are completely
unaware of their obvious heaven-made match.
Hell, even their coworkers know, as does Jill's
mom, Jack's uncle (Hui Siu-Hung, appearing in
his 100th film since 1998), and probably the
guy running the popcorn stand at the local theater.
But that's the rule of these glossy romantic
comedies: you know the two are getting together,
so it's the "how" that makes the difference.
Some animated misdirection, some feisty sparring,
and a couple of missed opportunities are enough
to get any audience primed for the inevitable
romantic pairing. So do writer-directors Andrew
Loo and Maurice Li deliver?
passive answer: not really. Though it looked
to be promising, It Had To Be You is
only average for a romantic comedy, and definitely
disappointing for a UFO-branded film. The "how"
is supposed to be the meat and potatoes of romantic
comedies, but the "how" of It Had
To Be You is less interesting than the "who"
and "where"not the ideal formula
for this genre. The "who" is fine:
Ekin Cheng is a likable romantic lead, and he
shows a more mature charm than in his previous
romantic roles. It used to be that Ekin Cheng's
romantic screen persona was a grown-up kid who
suffered from arrested development; in It
Had To Be You, he appears to be a likable,
decent guy who really wants to find the right
girland actually makes a couple of cheer-worthy
choices to get there. Karena Lam is Karena Lam,
meaning she's lovely and oh-so-adorable, and
probably enough to get any heterosexual male
to sit up and pay attention.
As for the "where",
the two inhabit the attractive urban streets
of Central, which is where Casa Nostra, their
shared workplace, is located. A homey Italian
joint, Casa Nostra has delicious-looking food,
coffee that's described in a surprisingly tasty
manner, and nice, likable employees (including
the spritely Yan Ng, last seen in Crazy N'
The City). It's also located right off the
Midlevel Escalators, meaning it's easy to find
if you're in Hong Kong and looking for a classy
joint to snag some grub. Make some reservations
and I'll see you there, though neither Karena
Lam nor Ekin Cheng will be around to satisfy
your star-gazing, star-stalking, or star-bashing
desire to take on Chan Ho-Nam in an impromptu
bar brawlor Italian restaurant rumble.
You'll have to make that date on your own.
But I digress.
The fact that I can go on and on about everything
but the film itself should tell you what you
need to know: It Had To Be You is recycled
stuff which looks and seems like it should be
a good movie, but unfortunately isn't. Jack
and Jill do grow closer in a relatively pleasing
manner, but the filmmakers resort to some out-of-nowhere
pathos of the urban UFO variety to make an impact
on the audience. At a pivotal moment, Jack and
Jill must tend to pal Jason (Eric Tsang, doing
his usual UFO supporting actor thing), who shares
an offbeat and completely manufactured secret
that's supposed to be touching, but seems more
hackneyed and convenient than anything else.
Jack and Jill also mouth the words to a Faye
Wong song at the exact same time, which is supposed
to indicate a sort of unspoken closeness, but
the moment comes off as jarring and cloying
instead. To top off all the obvious romantic
comedy devices, Jill walks an imaginary dog
and talks to it as if it existed. The effect
is supposed to be endearing, but Jill ultimately
seems more loopy than lovable. When you have
a star like Karena Lam, you should find more
for her to do than recycle Meg Ryan's greatest
hits. At the very least, Ekin Cheng is more
attractive than Billy Crystal, but Cheng probably
would be a lousy Academy Awards host.
Again, I digress. On
the positive end, It Had To Be You has
plenty of talking points for the Hong Kong Cinema
inclined. It's a UFO film, it's got rising star
Karena Lam, falling star Ekin Cheng (sorry fans,
but Ekin Cheng's star IS falling), an attractive
location in Central, and another patented supporting
turn by the sometimes effective, sometimes annoying
Eric Tsang. Plus, it actually tries to be intelligent
and sophisticated, which makes it a truly rare
Hong Kong flick, and enough to garner Maurice
Li and Andrew Loo an "A" for effort.
But the film itself? A C-plus, or maybe even
a B-minus, but if I give it that grade then
I'm truly being generous. Not to get overly
personal, but I really, really wanted to like
this movie. It had a lot of elements that made
it attractive to me, but if I did like it at
all, it was only because it featured the above
talking points, and not because it really was
a good movie. As it is, I was disappointed,
which wasn't entirely unexpected. If It Had
To Be You had really been good, I probably
would have been so flabbergasted that I would
proclaimed new hope for Hong Kong films. I also
would have renewed my membership in the Ekin
Cheng fan club, or at least gone to Causeway
Bay to see if I could enlist in Hung Hing. But
again, I digress. I seem to be doing that a
lot. (Kozo 2005)