Director Yip Lim-Sum
(AKA: Patrick Kong), auteur of the very overrated
Marriage with a Fool, returns with his latest
romantic nightmare Love is Not All Around.
Yip was recently nominated for Best New Director at
the Hong Kong Film Awards, but thankfully lost. Normally
I would consider it bad form to knock a new director
for gaining recognition because frankly, Hong Kong
needs all the new directors it can get.
In Yip's case,
however, the credit may have come prematurely. Marriage
with a Fool was hyped up as a clever and telling
romantic drama about modern relationships. The film
occasionally lived up to some of that hype, as it
did possess a few clever observations on modern love,
but it negated its positive aspects thanks to its
weak narrative, and egregious, unearned melodrama.
Yip did some things right, but he also did a lot of
things wrong, including directing the film with the
subtlety of a drunk elephant. Yip returns full force
with Love is Not All Around, giving us five
times the clever musings on life and love, but also
upping the crap quotient considerably. This may make
our Worst Movies of 2007 list. Place your bets now.
Soft plastic screen goddess
Stephy Tang takes center stage as Bo, a hot girl who
uses her ample feminine wiles to score with the guys.
She's as adept at dating strategy as she is adorable-looking,
meaning she's pretty damn good at getting her way
with the boys. Thanks to some overly-forthcoming voiceover,
we learn early on that Bo is more realistic than romantic.
However, that cynicism is tested thanks to the reappearance
of ex-boyfriend Ryan (Alex Fong Lik-Sun), who once
upon a time reacted poorly to getting dumped.
using Ryan to get to another guy, and after ridding
herself of Ryan, a bunch of bad luck started to occur.
Her cat got poisoned, her mom pushed down the stairs,
and her new boyfriend sent to the hospital. Reportedly
a vengeful Ryan was the culprit - a suspicion made
more credible since his words at the breakup included,
"You must be punished!" Sounds like extreme
sour grapes, and who wouldn't get all worked up over
losing Bo? After all, she's played by Stephy Tang
in a variety of chest-hugging outfits. Too bad said
outfits are sometimes quite tacky, and make Tang look
like a misguided fashion victim. But I digress.
Ryan may have been pulling
a Fatal Attraction-lite some years back, but
upon reappearing he seems to have his act together.
Bo isn't so quick to surrender to his attentions,
and besides, she has the attentions of a new guy,
super nice doctor Joe (Hins Cheung), who looks like
the Hong Kong version of Doogie Howser. Bo meets Joe
at the hospital after accidentally getting dishwashing
liquid in her eye in what has to be one of the most
idiotic and awkwardly-acted comedy sequences ever
put to film. The two hit if off fairly well, and bond
when Joe reveals he can play the piano like some sort
But, your usual situation
comedy arises to put Bo into a terrible love triangle.
Who will she choose, the possibly reformed former
beau or the incredibly super nice doctor kid? And
what will she do about old friend Wing (Sammy), who's
cheating on his new wife Ching (Linda Chung), and
constantly making Bo his confidant? Can this babelicous
Hong Kong girl get a break with love? And can she
fix her wardrobe before she's picked up for soliciting?
Yip Lim-Sum apparently loves
relationship issues, and in Love is Not All Around,
he has a virtual toybox of familiar themes and anxieties
to play with. Besides issues of compatibility and
infidelity, we also get a front-row seat for newlywed
blues, unrequited love, premature judgement, mistaken
identity, plus duplicity, serendipity, and probably
even fiscal responsibility and ill-advised promiscuity
in the hope-it-never-happens director's cut version.
That's a whole barrel of relationship landmines to
cover, and Yip's characters get down-and-dirty in
them like romantic comedy mud wrestlers. Some of the
situations displayed are actually quite interesting,
and could work if Yip could make his characters identifiable.
The problem is he can't - unless you happen to identify
with shrill, irrational, and sadistic modern youth
who are more in love with themselves than anyone else.
Yip's characters seem more like types than well-rounded
characters, each serving a particular function in
this jigsaw puzzle of loaded relationship issues.
It would be nice if people in this film behaved as
if they were driven by personalities, and not the
screenwriter's need to foist yet another pessimistic
relationship observation on us.
But pessimism? That's Yip
Lim-Sum's bread and butter. Marriage with a Fool got some local cred for its somewhat unexpected ending,
which took a happy resolution and quickly reversed
it. The about-face seemed to signal some thematic
depth, but it also played like some self-indulgent
directorial rub-it-in-your-face move, as in "You
thought this couple would live happily ever after?
Psyche!" Yip brings that indulgence to Love
is Not All Around and multiples it. The title
should clue you in already (Love is Not All Around?
Hmmmm.), but the message can be pretty much summed
up in two words: people suck.
Love is Not All Around attempts a more clever-than-usual narrative, delivering
numerous plot twists and flashbacks designed to make
you think, "Ah, so that's really what's going
on. Those magnificent bastards!" Characters assume
one thing only to discover something else, and people
are usually revealed as much worse than they initially
seemed to be. There's some entertainment value in
that, but given the sheer amount of negative twists
we get subjected to, the message seems to change from
"People suck" to "People suck hard."
If there's a lesson in Love is Not All Around,
it seems to be this: avoid relationships because you'll
get screwed. Figuratively, that is.
This sort of narrative twisting
can actually lift a film, if Yip actually had some
sort of craft going on with his direction. Unfortunately,
he doesn't; Love is Not All Around is directed
in a very clumsy manner, betraying its intentions
with obvious music cues and too many scenes of characters
looking back wistfully in slow motion. Every technique
and trick Yip employs has been done before, and usually
in a film with a far more accomplished script than
this one. Too many scenes in the film are punctuated
by people pouring their hearts out in syrupy displays
of realization or contrition, and the dialogue they're
given is so self-aware and touchy-feely that it borders
In the world of Love is Not All
Around, people seem to store up big speeches about
their personal emotional growth in case some old friend
or flame bumps into them on the street, whereupon
they unleash a torrent of pent-up "all about
me" dialogue. The onscreen effect is one of emotional
catharsis, but down in the audience it smells like
someone just puked. Why do movies like this have to
be so incredibly literal in their examination of love
and its emotional effects on people? Can't something
go unsaid once in a while?
Apparently not, since the
screenplay pretty much spells everything out in huge
neon letters. Basically, this is not a good movie,
and may actually be worse than the already disappointing Marriage with a Fool. Love is Not All Around attempts significance with its numerous reveals, but
there are so many that they cease to become believable,
and start to border on the comic. The actors also
have a hard time selling the material; most of the
cast does okay, but the situations they're put in
are so unreal and cloying that the actors only look
At least Stephy Tang is around to prevent red-blooded
males from blinking, and her Cookie cohort Miki Yeung
sure knows how to wear a pair of shorts. Alex Fong
is Alex Fong, which is probably enough for his fans.
Yip Lim-Sum does have some tools as a screenwriter
(though one of his big reveals is a massive Asian
Cinema cliché), but he may wish to polish his
skills as a director. Love is Not All Around is transparent in its direction, and lacks wit, style,
and credibility. This isn't an issue of effort, because
Yip Lim-Sum certainly tries. However, given the resulting
quality of Love is Not All Around, his effort
simply seems misguided, and even presumptuous. When
he tries again, hopefully Yip Lim-Sum will have learned.