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Love For All Seasons

Sammi Cheng and Louis Koo in Love For All Seasons.

Chinese: 百年好合
Year: 2003
Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung, Wai Ka-Fai
Action: Ma Yuk-Sing
Cast: Sammi Cheng Sau-Man, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Li Bingbing, Belinda Hamnett, Emotion Cheung Kam-Ching, Lam Suet, Lee Fung, Rachel Ngan Wing-Sze
The Skinny: Johnnie To and Sammi Cheng usually equals a light, fun and surprisingly good time at the movies. Love For All Seasons is most definitely light, and it's even occasionally fun. But really, it's not that good.
by Kozo:

In their fifth collaboration since 2000, Johnnie To and Sammi Cheng show some signs of tiring. Their previous commercial hits were funny and enjoyable, but also possessed some surprisingly affecting emotions beneath the mugging and pratfalls. Love For All Seasons stacks up pretty well when compared to the usual star-filled Lunar New Year nonsense, and is easily better than its direct competitor, My Lucky Star. But when compared to Needing You, Love on a Diet or even My Left Eye Sees Ghosts, this latest effort falls woefully short.

Louis Koo is Tiger, Hong Kong's most notorious playboy. His shenanigans have caused many a broken heart, as can be evidenced by the film's over-the-top opening sequence where numerous women—including the police negotiator, officer-in-charge and the fire chief—threaten to jump off the building due to his philandering. Fittingly, his activities have also left him with some serious health issues, which have left him plugged up in the restroom and generally grouchy, to boot. He ends up seeking help from the Omei Clan, an all-female martial arts school located in the Mainland. There, he meets May (Sammi Cheng), the temporary headmistress of the school, who sets about curing him through wacky Eastern medical means. She also spends a good deal of time doling out discomfort and sly payback for Tiger's womanizing ways. The Omei Clan may be a legitimate martial arts school, but apparently they aren't above a little mischief themselves.

Unfortunately, Omei has its own share of problems. Their previous headmistress (Lee Bing-Bing) returns after being driven mad due to rejection by a male. She resolves to kill all of Omei and then herself unless May can best her in a one-on-one duel. To do so, May needs to learn the "Broken Heart" stance, which can only be obtained if May actually experiences a broken heart herself. She travels to Hong Kong and searches out Tiger, because he seems to be the only one that can help her. He resolves to do so because after all, May was his "savior." Still, she has rules: no kissing, hugging or sleeping together. You'd think genuine rejection would be impossible without the above, but Tiger views this as a true challenge for his refined lothario ways. And, as you'd expect from a fluffy Lunar New Year flick, love blossoms along the way.

Or so we're supposed to believe. The setup for this is Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai's most strained since 2000's Help!!!, and while Love For All Seasons isn't as egregiously frenetic as that film, it does have its share of alienating factors. For one thing, the acting and direction are cartoony to distraction. My Left Eye Sees Ghosts possessed the same eager-to-please wackiness that plagues this film, but its strong characters and hidden emotions made it a genuinely enjoyable flick.

Love For All Seasons attempts the same sort of hidden emotions with the character of Tiger, who's supposed to be helping May by breaking her heart. Is he doing it because he really cares for her? Or does he desire payback for all the crappy things she did to him while he was on the mend? It would have been smart for the filmmakers to make the situations a tad more opaque, but as it is Tiger swings between "false" wooing and obnoxious insulting of May—while never letting us forget that he actually likes her too. The contrast makes for the occasional good moment (such as when Tiger finally kicks May out), but the constant flip-flopping grows tiresome and repetitive.

Even more repetitive is Sammi Cheng's performance, which is trademark silly and winning, but also rather old hat by now. May is delightfully virginal and amusingly animated, but she lacks the hidden depths that Cheng managed to bring to her characters in Needing You and My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. She still fares better than Koo, who's a fun comic actor, but also a rather undisciplined one. It's great that he can make fun of himself in ways that the Aaron Kwok/Leon Lai types cannot, but his hyperactive mugging can be overbearing. He also might want to have his tanning bed checked; his trademark perma-tan seems to have gone from lightly roasted to burnt.

Johnnie To does manage a few surprising emotional moments, and the zippy pace and ultra-light tone make this suitable Lunar New Year fare. Still, one has to wonder if that's enough anymore. After Hong Kong's stellar Christmas box office, it might be smart to put a rein on the silly quickies that have defined Hong Kong Cinema for too long. Even though there's some amusing creativity here, no amount of media-massaging can mask what a film like this is: crap. This isn't a knock on Johnnie To, who's essentially giving the audience the pre-packaged commercial fare that they've supported since 2000, but his iron directorial hand has started to lose its way. We can forgive him—and by extension, Sammi Cheng—for this less-than-inspired effort as both have earned the right to occasionally flounder. However, if this keeps up, our tolerance level may start to decline. (Kozo 2003)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image courtesy of Chinastar Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen