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L For Love, L For Lies
L For Love L For Lies

(left to right) Alice Tzeng, Alex Fong, Stephy Tang, Terry Hu, and Miki Yeung.
Chinese: 我的最愛  
Year: 2008  
Director: Patrick Kong  
Writer: Patrick Kong  
Cast: Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Stephy Tang Lai-Yun, Alice Tzeng, Miki Yeung Oi-Gan, Terry Wu Ching-Nam, Leila Tong Ling, Steven Wong Ka-Lok, Linda Chung Ka-Yan, Wu Jing, Chan Kwok-Bong, Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Sammy, Wong Cho-Lam, Kayle Kwan Ji-Tung, Natalie Tong Sze-Wing, Mimi Chu Mi-Mi, Suki Chui Suk-Man, William So Wing-Hong, Angela Au Man-Si, Joey Leung Cho-Yiu, Harriet Yeung Sze-Man
The Skinny: Somewhat labored and predictable, but L For Love, L For Lies is a vast improvement over Love is Not All Around - though that qualification may not mean much. For popstar-fueled commercial cinema with more than a few garish conceits, the movie works. Patrick Kong's best film ever! Take that as you will.
by Kozo:

Relationships suck, and any reconciliation or sweet words are merely veiled lies that mask even further sucking. Those happy thoughts seem to be the prevailing theme behind the work of Patrick Kong (a.k.a. Yip Lim-Sum), writer-director of the hit romantic dramedies Marriage with a Fool and Love is Not All Around. Kong's work has struck a chord with local audiences, with his earlier films becoming surprise box-office hits, and Kong has been noted for his cynical cleverness, usually demonstrated by a showy twist ending where his sappy romantic climaxes are turned on their unsuspecting heads. The films themselves are an interesting little Hong Kong pop-culture lesson, as they demonstrate the existence of a popular Hong Kong Cinema unheard of to those who think SPL is one of the greatest Hong Kong films ever made. Too bad Kong's films are so ham-handed and amateurish to really appeal to uninitiated audiences looking for a bit of local Hong Kong culture. There's thought and value in Kong's films, but the execution is so garish that recommending his films is difficult.

However, Kong breaks that streak with his latest film, L For Love, L For Lies, which manages to better his previous efforts, if not fully erase his status as a director in need of improvement. Kong reunites his usual stars, Alex Fong and Stephy Tang, for a movie about, well, relationships sucking. Fong is Henry, a conman who specializes in using his charms to bilk unsuspecting women out of their dough. Or is his name Keung? Hell, he even goes by Owen, but his multiple identities makes sense, because he's supposed to be a duplicitous rat bastard who's only out for his own money-grubbing hide. However, Henry gets a chance at redemption when he falls in with Bobo (Stephy Tang), a sweet, naive, and rather foolish girl who first meets him canoodling with an old school chum. Soon after, she hears that Henry has absconded with her pal's dough, and when chancing upon him again, she realizes that he's a despicable conman who's up to no good. Henry lives up to his billing, threatening Bobo with, um, something if she tells the cops that she's seen him. Given her mousy, sweet nature, she is cowed and agrees to shut her trap.

But Bobo wants Henry's help. She used to run a popular dessert cafe called Bobo Tim Bun (meaning "Bobo's Desserts") with boyfriend Chun (Wong Ka-Lok). But Chun was quickly charmed by Bobo's old friend Kiki (Alice Tzeng of Secret), who promptly took both Bobo's man AND her position as the dessert shop's driving force. Fittingly, Bobo wants revenge, and she thinks Henry is just the man to do it for her. The price is steep, and Bobo courts obvious risk, i.e. that Henry will take her money and simply run, but Henry agrees to be her partner in chicanery and promptly begins his grand plan to mess with Kiki. However, some key flashbacks hint that Bobo's assignment may be more than just another job to Henry, and Bobo begins to take a greater shine to her new employee than she perhaps should. Meanwhile, Bobo's pal Mon (Leila Tong) is undergoing a relationship crisis with boyfriend Fung (Terry Hu). Mon is manipulative and abusive, and Fung has managed to find himself a leggy backup girlfriend (Miki Yeung), leading to, well, more chatter about relationships sucking. Is there a light at the end of this particular movie theme tunnel?

Probably not, since Patrick Kong seems intent on shoving his "Love Bites!" nuggets of wisdom down our throats ad nauseum. As he's been previously lauded for slagging off on love, Kong seems to have made a habit of it - and good for him! Hong Kong rewards hard work, so we'll reward him too, saying that we understand just why he chooses to repeat his past successes until bad box office tells him to give it a rest. True to form, Kong returns here with much of the same cast (Besides Alex and Stephy, the rest of the cast has done previous duty on Kong's films), and serves up some common signifiers besides just his omnipresent twist ending. Chief among these are his penchant for portraying Hong Kong girls as screechy and manipulative, plus his use of sappy, long-winded speeches to resolve some long-standing romantic conflict. In L For Love, L For Lies, Kong even combines multiple signifiers to magnify the alienating effect. Leila Tong gets to screech out a hideously long, over-the-top rant of contrition and understanding, and besides messing with your hearing, the scene manages to affect in a "Wow! That's melodrama!" kind of way. Obviously, people must respond to this method of blunt storytelling because they paid to see his movies before. When quality is in question, look to the masses to make the decision. Their decision: that Patrick Kong's movies have been good.

Not to burst anyone's bubble, but Patrick Kong's movies haven't been good. They're obvious, manufactured, and rather shoddy - with the caveat being that he apparently wishes to make them this way. Kong's scripts have been decently conceived, but his past works were so poorly directed that one wonders if it wasn't his intention to direct in a crummy, paint-by-numbers fashion. Thankfully, Kong does manage some noticeable improvement in L For Love, L For Lies, and even turns some of his previous debits into positives. Kong's use of time-shifting narratives was distracting and clunky before, but this time the technique manages to move the film along at a fast, entertaining clip. Kong has better technical collaborators this time, and his actors deliver effective performances. Stephy Tang's character is a bit of a pillow case, but Tang manages to give the weak, foolish character enough basic sympathy to make her matter to the audience. As the movie's bad girl, Alice Tzeng is a lot of fun, and does a convincing and entertaining reversal on her sweet, one-note performance in Secret. The rest of the Patrick Kong players fill their roles well, appearing screechy, duplicitous, or angelic as the film demands. And it demands it a lot.

Most surprising of all, however, is Alex Fong. The former Olympic swimmer is still a lightweight performer, and his one big emotional rant is uncomfortable and a little embarrassing (nobody in this film acts convincingly drunk). However, Fong earns a surprising amount of sympathy as the film's conman with a heart of gold, managing to appear cruel and yet sympathetic at the same time. Given his usual M.O. (bland nice guys, e.g. Bullet and Brain), Fong's flirtation with the dark side is incredibly welcome, and it's a surprise that he handles the part with overdone, but effective charisma. Fong's acting style in the film is actually eerily reminiscent of someone else at an early stage in his career, as Fong adopts cool poses, purposeful gazes, and an overdone yet effective anger. Apparently Alex Fong attended the "Young Andy Lau School of Acting" before making L For Love, L For Lies, giving the film an extra boost in the entertainment department. Its too early to say if Fong can ever ape Lau's complete career trajectory, but there are certainly worse acting role models one could have than Andy Lau.

Then again, part of the whole "Fong as Lau" similarity is because of the character Fong plays, from his "likeable cad" persona on down to his choices and even his fate. L For Love, L For Lies is ultimately rather clichéd, but at least Patrick Kong chooses some new clichés to mine. For a change, love is not just a destructive force, but also a source of redemption, and even the obnoxious, teary confessions don't always have the same result as they do in earlier Kong films. Kong's story is better here, too - it's still dependent on too much coincidence and happenstance, but at least it sidesteps a supposed portrait of reality by getting more outlandish than his previous efforts did. Despite their overdone storylines and annoying quirkiness, earlier Kong efforts did purport to reflect reality, as they were very much about just relationships. L For Love, L For Lies is about relationships too, but it also features an entertaining "who's conning who" storyline, complete with cartoon-like shady characters and even some flirtation with actual danger. The result is a film that is somewhat cheesy and predictable, but in a way that no one probably expects from a Patrick Kong film. To spell it out simply: L For Love, L For Lies is a lot better than one would expect, and manages to entertain between its occasional annoyances. Message to Patrick Kong: keep on trying. We haven't given up on you yet. (Kozo 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Gold Label Publishing
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Gold Label

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