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Natural Born Lovers

Julian Cheung and Annie Liu smooch it out in Natural Born Lovers.

Chinese: 天生愛情狂
Year: 2012  
Director: Patrick Kong
Writer: Patrick Kong
Cast: Julian Cheung Chi-Lam, Annie Liu, Anna Kay, Tin Kai-Man, Christine Kuo, Oscar Leung Lit-Wai, Jason Chan Pak-Yue, Johnson Yuen Tak-Cheong, Ava Yu Kiu, Mandy Wong Chi-Man, Mandy Lieu, Kathy Yuen, Ciwi Lam Sze-Man, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Michelle Loo, Linah Matsuoka, Jinny Ng Yeuk-Hei, Mark Wu Yiu-Fai, Chu Fun, Justin Cheung Kin-Seng, Jacqueline Chong Si-Man, Elva Ni, Sukie Shek Wing-Lei, Alton Yu Dik-Wai
The Skinny: More of the same Patrick Kong stuff. Natural Born Lovers rates decently against Kong's other work, which isn't bad if you're a fan of his decidedly cynical youth romantic comedies. However, if you've hated his other films, Natural Born Lovers will not convert you to the Kong cause.
by Kozo:

Watching Patrick Kong movies is like going to Starbucks: Sure, they’ve got new drinks on the menu but in the end, it’s all the same crap. The hit director returns with Natural Born Lovers, an unsurprisingly cynical romantic comedy that takes a few new ideas and does the usual with them. Kong newcomers Julian Cheung and Annie Liu are the stars and the subject is that old chestnut: the needy partner/borderline stalker. Little Tayler (Cheung) is a former child star and professional pâtissier who first spies pretty Bobo (Annie Liu) when she’s begging for attention from a seemingly abusive ex-boyfriend (Tin Kai-Man). A couple of accidental run-ins later, Bobo asks Tayler to teach her how to bake a chocolate cake. The cake is part of an icky revenge gag by Bobo against her ex, but in the aftermath Bobo and Tayler form a tentative alliance.

That alliance leads to love when the two ride a cursed elevator and smooch it out. Tayler belongs to a geeky elevator fan club – a possible dig at Hong Kong’s small but fanatical subcultures – and convinces Bobo to join, whereupon they ride an elevator that’s rumored to off its passengers if they number more than one. Having Bobo and Tayler bet with their lives at the start of their courtship is a nice detail. These are two flawed individuals; Bobo is clingy and vengeful, while Tayler is not above lying to women (he routinely helps his three brothers-in-law cheat or lie to their spouses), and each knows that a new love comes with sizable risk. This is an amusing way to illustrate the courage or stupidity that comes with entering into a relationship, and demonstrates one of Patrick Kong’s strengths: He gets how young people feel love and is able to transmit that feeling in his films.

If only Kong could learn to rein it in. The elevator ride is never explicitly outed as a metaphor, but every other detail of Kong’s too-talky screenplay is over explained. Tayler bakes the “Memory Cake”, which helps one recover lost memories when eaten. How? Well, because it does. The Memory Cake helps the chirpy Ching (Anna Kay) remember her lost love, helps Tayler recall his previous relationship with Wylie (Christine Kuo), and even serves a key function for Bobo. The Memory Cake is also an excuse to deliver flashback after tiring flashback, frequently to scenes that occurred maybe twenty minutes before. Another plot device features Tayler experiencing blurred vision when seeing Bobo. The blurring is explained as a manifestation of Tayler’s love, but the meaning seems to shift when the script requires it. These pseudo-clever details are fine on their own, but linked together they become clumsy and cloying.

The screenplay is also weaker than previous Patrick Kong efforts. Kong is at his best when he skewers local pop culture and media, and there are riffs here on A Simple Life, Julian Cheung’s real-life marriage to actress Anita Yuen, plus other name-dropping and in-jokes. The humor is amusing but it’s not delivered sharply, with some scenes weighed down by the actors droning on with no end in sight. The film also starts flat, with sequences drawn out for grating Tarantino-esque dialogue. When actors begin pretentiously quoting Joey Yung and William So songs, the film grinds to a halt. Also, Tayler’s status as a former child actor is pointless; there’s a disconnected gag in the beginning about how he’s chased by fans, but otherwise the detail does nothing. The film’s Greek Chorus – the side characters who serve as sounding boards for Tayler and Bobo – do entertain, though the unlikable male characters are more amusing than their shrill female counterparts.

It’s also hard to like either Bobo or Tayler, which becomes both a weakness and a strength to the film. Patrick Kong delights in throwing cynical twists into his romcoms – back-up lovers, stalkers, Machiavellian cheaters – and he does the same here. However, the twist is telegraphed far in advance, and since the characters aren’t likable, it’s hard to care if they get screwed over. On the plus side, the characters unequivocally deserve each another – as well as the accompanying emotional torture – so that’s some form of justice. Julian Cheung does fine as the likable and also loathsome Tayler, and is much better with the darker material than the syrupy stuff. Not known for impressive acting, Annie Liu manages some affect as Bobo; the character is a bit unhinged, and Liu’s forced performance adds just the right touch of unstable, borderline disturbing emotion. In comparison to Kong’s other films, Natural Born Lovers is at best a solid entry, and at worst only average. Patrick Kong: nothing if not dependable. (Kozo, 2012)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital EX
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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