|Andy Lau returns to contemporary romance after a string of period epics in director Andrew Lau's Look for a Star, a polished romance about whether or not class differences matter in love. Shot entirely in Macau, the film is full of pretty sights, pretty people, and it even has two established writers onboard - James Yuen Sai-Sang penned some of UFO's greatest hits and has since become an established writer/director himself, while novelist/scriptwriter Ming Tang was the original author behind the classic Andy Lau romcom Needing You. With the prime Lunar New Year release slot to prove its commercial potential, can this team do any wrong?
The answer is yes and no. While the actors themselves turn in fine performances, and the script mostly finds the right balance between charm and drama, Andrew Lau is not a director known for subtle storytelling. Here, he injects his usual brand of filmmaking, confusing overactive editing for style and hammering emphasis into every single important moment as if it's the only way the audience can understand its significance. Nevertheless, Lau can also be very good at making polished, commercial films with great entertainment value, and he also brings that ability to Look for a Star. However, in addition to being polished and commercial, at times Look for a Star is also contrived and embarrassing.
Part of the blame goes to writers Yuen and Tang, who are so into their fantasy romance world and its presumably potent themes. Just in case one story about romance in different classes wasn't enough for the audience to get the point, Look for a Star features three parallel plots about the same thing. Taking central focus is the romance between billionaire tycoon Sam (Andy Lau) and nightclub dancer Milan (Shu Qi). The two meet at a casino table when Milan, probably the nicest nightclub dancer in the world, is standing in for a friend as a card dealer at Sam's casino. For some reason, Milan mistakes Sam for another deadbeat gambler, and the two begin a friendship that quickly turns into romance, even though Milan doesn't know that Sam is the billionaire tycoon she blames for taking away her childhood playground.
Despite that little detail, Sam isn't really such a bad guy. That's not only because he's played by Andy Lau, but also because he's probably the nicest CEO in the world. He doesn't just choose to sit in the front seat of his car – he even hooks up his driver Tim (Lam Ka-Wah) with Shannon (Zhang Xinyi), an attractive real estate agent also looking for love. However, Tim has his reservations because Shannon is also a single mother of a cute little girl. Sam is even nice to construction workers like Lin Jiu (Assembly star Zhang Hanyu), who falls for Sam's right-hand woman Jo (Denise Ho, listed by her pop star name HOCC in the credits). However, their own insecurities about their respective social statuses put a strain on their potential relationship as well.
Even though the Sam-Milan romance takes center stage, the relationship between Lin Jiu and Jo is actually the most involving. The romance strips away much of the Cinderella fantasy of the former and actually creates a romance by developing characters worth caring about. While Zhang Hanyu's Lin Jiu is straightforward as a stereotypical nice guy construction worker, Denise Ho gives a charming and surprisingly self-deprecating performance as a self-conscious woman trapped between her pride in her social status and developing feelings for a regular Joe. Their back-and-forth interactions actually make up some of the more enjoyable moments during the first half of the film, and that plot is also where the film's themes are effectively conveyed without being overly didactic.
But it all goes back to stars Andy Lau and Shu Qi. Even though the two certainly have more chemistry than their last pairing in Wesley's Mystery File and make a believable couple, the plot holes make some of their early conflicts too contrived to care about. For one, if Sam is so famous that his love life, which includes three divorces, can end up on the covers of tabloid magazines, how can Milan have no idea who he is? Fortunately, the mistaken identity contrivance is ultimately shoved aside, bringing the central class difference romance theme front and center. However, unlike the effective delivery of the themes in the Lin Jiu/Jo storyline, the conflicts occur at the expense of the subplots' development, effectively bringing the film to a halt.
Look For a Star culminates in a silly finale that's as cheesy as it is awkwardly embarrassing. In a convenient device that quickly resolves the three plot lines, all the characters resolve their differences on a live television show hosted by a jerk of a host (Cheung Tat-Ming, not overacting here). Not only does the scene have some of the most obvious technical goofs in recent cinema history (what are those film cameras doing at a live TV shoot?), it also painfully wraps up every plotline in monologues of self-realization that only serve to emphasize the central theme of the need to seize happiness on one's own (At least it's better than its lame English translation of “follow your heart”). The conclusions are too easy to reach, and smack of lazy writing.
However, this is also an easy fault to overlook because Look for a Star never takes itself too seriously. Like all holiday films, it has a ton of star cameos; appearances by Maria Cordero, David Chiang, George Lam, and even Rebecca Pan help make for a good game of "spot the star". The film has a generally light tone that makes for an enjoyable sit, and even the extremely cheesy parts are good for a laugh, regardless of their intentions. Despite all of its weaknesses in plot, direction, and character development, Look for a Star undoubtedly entertains in the way that only polished, commercial romances can. It's all a little artificial, but the enjoyment one can get from it may end up being genuine. (Kevin Ma, 2009)