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(left) Amber Kuo, Eddie Peng and Ivy Chen, and (right) Vicki Zhao and Mark Chao fall in Love.

Chinese: 愛 Love
Year: 2012
Director: Doze Niu
Writer: Iris Tseng, Wang Qi'nan, Doze Niu
Cast: Vicki Zhao Wei, Mark Chao, Shu Qi, Ethan Ruan, Amber Kuo, Ivy Chen Yi-Han, Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Doze Niu, Wang Jingchun, Lung Shao-Hua, Belle Yu, Yang Kuei-Mei, Ting Chiang, Li Hsuan, Hsiao Yeh, Rhydian Vaughan, Chen Han-Dian, Huang Teng-Hui, Tsai Cheng-Hsien, Zhang Haiyan, Du Jiayi, Jo'elle Lu, Chu Chih-Ying, Bright Pu, Huang Chien-Ho, Wei Po-Chin, Chen Yu-Hsun, Li Jun
The Skinny: Classy and super-commercial, this all-star romcom finely balances comedy and drama, and smartly dodges when things get too pretentious or preachy. The gorgeous and able cast is likely worth the price of admission alone.
by Kozo:

Taiwan idols make a convincing case for screen supremacy with Love, an ensemble romance from director-actor Doze Niu. Mostly Taipei-set with occasional detours to Beijing, Love features a super-photogenic cast muddling through their love lives, the details of which – if you've ever seen a television drama – should immediately be familiar. Basically, nothing that occurs in Love is original or inspired, with pretty people and terrific production values intended to shore up the whole shebang. Luckily, Doze Niu and his actors succeed at their patchwork filmmaking, making Love an enjoyable if overlong piece of star-fueled fluff. Go, uh, Doze!

An impressive but obviously manipulated 12-minute tracking shot introduces us to Love's characters. Chia (Ivy Chen) is pregnant thanks to Kai (Eddie Peng), but he's the boyfriend of her best pal Ni (Amber Kuo). Rich businessman Mark (Mark Chao) chances by Beijing vistor Xiaoye (Vicki Zhao) in a hotel elevator, before rebuffing the advances of socialite Zoe (Shu Qi) in one of the luxury rooms. Working in the hotel is Chia's stuttering brother Kuan (Ethan Ruan), who annoys Zoe when he snaps her photo outside the hotel, right before she's picked up by Lu Ping (Doze Niu), her rich sugar daddy and Ni's father. Mark is also Lu Ping's friend, plus there's a hidden character connection that further links the two. If you need an infographic to chart this near-incestuous web of characters, you're not alone.

Relationships develop as the film jumps between its Taipei and Beijing locales. Mark heads to Beijing to do business and research his ancestry, coming into contact with the fiesty Xiaoye, who's revealed to be a single mother. Back in Taipei, best pals Ni and Chia find their friendship fractured, with still-immature Kai stuck in between. Zoe is tired of being a rich man's arm candy, and despite getting off on the wrong foot with her, the lower class Kuan becomes her confidant. Behind them all, Lu plays concerned father but also selfish lover, seeking to claim Zoe as his own even though their longtime relationship comes with plenty of cheating on the side. Unions are formed, hearts are broken, and somewhere in there universal truths on love, friendship and maturity are dispensed.

Actually, they aren’t, and that’s a good thing. Despite possessing the ingredients for a self-involved romance dissertation, Love eschews pretension and keeps epiphanies and self-realization character-specific. Events are unremarkable and clichéd – lost children, teary confrontations, teased abortions – but the actors and Niu's solid direction make the most of this familiar material. The Beijing segment feels the most complete and entertaining, thanks to Vicki Zhao's strong performance as single mother Xiaoye, plus some sly support from Wang Jingchun as Ge Ting, the cop who helps Xiaoye and Mark navigate their romantic tension. Mark Chao is a bit outclassed by the older Zhao, but his handsome, confident screen presence makes him a worthy sparring partner.

On the Taipei side, siblings Kuan and Chia share a surprisingly affecting if not romantic relationship. Ivy Chen makes Chia sympathetic and felt despite the fact that she’s the one who stole her best friend’s guy. Ethan Ruan is super likeable as the virgin Kuan, a “best man ever” archetype whose tentative courtship of the worldly Zoe is the closest the film has to a grand movie-like romance. Shu Qi essays Zoe like an old pro, bringing instant character and credibility to her role. The story between Kai and Ni is the least felt, as it doesn’t seem to develop so much as simply get defined, and the characters only seem to change because they disappear for so much screentime. However, both Amber Kuo and Eddie Peng are fine, with Kuo’s scenes with Ivy Chen surpassing their soap opera clichés.

Love is ultimately a product, but it’s a classy one. The film wraps up in an expected manner, i.e., everyone has a resolution and most are happy ones. At the same time, Niu doesn’t overdo his climaxes, choosing for low-key unions rather than heightened clinches that romcoms are so prone to. Love seems to recognize its genre’s pitfalls, and occasionally subverts them with an endearing self-awareness that calls attentions to its TV drama tropes, frequently with humor. Niu also makes sure to put his talented cast front-and-center, but not at the expense of experienced actors like Shu Qi and Vicki Zhao, who thankfully anchor the proceedings. Smartly, Niu relegates himself to the least among the leading stars. Doze Niu seems to get what his real role is in Love: he’s the film’s backbone, and if he makes his young stars look good, they’ll make him look good. Well they do and Niu does. (Kozo 2012)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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