|Director Alexi Tan tackles the romantic comedy genre with Color Me Love, a product-placement filled urban romcom and his follow-up to the disappointing Blood Brothers. Tan shows improvement here, but relatively speaking that doesn’t mean all that much. Maybe Color Me Love attempts less than Blood Brothers did, or maybe expectations on Tan’s work have dipped lower. Either way, Color Me Love isn't as good as it looks. And it looks pretty good.
Starring Blood Brothers alum Liu Ye and talented comedienne Yao Chen, Color Me Love concerns a down-to-earth fashion assistant who gets romanced by a temperamental artist. The two meet semi-cute, get together, break up and make up, and then break up and make up again. There’s also some pretentious mumbling about artistic inspiration, and how loving yourself and another simultaneously isn't easy. Or something. There may be more themes at work here, but identifying them is difficult when the filmmaking is this uninspired.
Color Me Love takes place in the swank offices of Flair, an upscale fashion glossy where Wang Xiaofei (Yao Chen) is newly employed as a deputy fashion editor. She starts at the bottom but has an ally up top: Editor-in-chief Zoe (Joan Chen) is a friend of Xiaofei’s aunt, and recognizes that Xiaofei’s earthy, Plain Jane attitude is a blessing in the superficial high-hat world of fashion. Xiaofei’s character is understood through her realistic quirkiness and her burgeoning romance with moody artist Luan Yihong (Liu Ye), which she navigates with rare intelligence and winning common sense.
Yihong chases ardently and sometimes alarmingly, and Xiaofei proves unable to resist his matchless hot-tempered charms. Soon a romance is born. Then it stops. Then it starts again. Then it stops again. A couple of other subplots, a fashion show and an elaborate dinner party whiz by, and then the relationship gets resolved (Guess how!). Cue credits, grab your hat - you just saw Color Me Love.
On looks, Color Me Love zips to the head of the class. Alexi Tan is a noted commercial and music video director and his eye for attractive art direction would make any interior designer jealous. Fitting to the film’s subject matter, the clothes, furniture, fixtures and other accoutrements are all tops, and even the Bohemian spaces (e.g., Yihong’s art studio, the dance school where Xiaofei teaches ballet partime) are impeccably realized.
Lending life to the fine art direction are good actors giving credible performances. Yao Chen demonstrates both style and substance as archetypical romcom heroine Xiao-Fei, while Liu Ye convinces that he’s a tortured artist and not just an arrogant a-hole. Joan Chen has fun with her Devil Wears Prada-lite character, while the cameos by fashion, art and performance celebs lend credibility to Tan’s faux fashion world. Russell Wong also appears, which qualifies as a separate form of entertainment.
If looks and a cursory glance were enough to rate a film, then Color Me Love would rate high. But a film needs more – like perhaps a story and matching direction. The story of Color Me Love (by Kung Fu Hip Hop's Ning Caishen) is prosaic and uninspired, and Alexi Tan does an unconvincing job of telling it. The narrative progresses in disconnected fashion, with emotional continuity lacking from scene-to-scene. Some moments, like those involving Yihong’s could-be suicidal ex (Monica Mok), go to potent places and then end abruptly. Sometimes they’re bridged to later scenes and sometimes they’re not, but the emotions and situations never escalate.
Tan possesses skills, but storytelling is not yet among them. He gives his actors space to operate, but can’t develop the story to match the characters that they create. Without a stronger guiding hand, the film limps through its events, seemingly ending two or three times before it reaches its final, predictable end. One might still enjoy Color Me Love if they take its superficial excellence as proof of a classy and elegant romantic comedy. Digging beneath the surface, however, reveals proof of something else. (Kozo, 2011)