Thursday, October 09, 2014

Breakup Buddies

As I mentioned in the most recent sparsely populated This Week in Tickets, I didn't get to see Breakup Buddies on Friday night despite the fact that a second screen was put on. And while the screen I did see it on Tuesday wasn't huge - maybe a 100-seat room - when you consider that my experience seeing these Chinese day-and-date releases has generally been "me and a half-dozen other people" even on Friday or Saturday, this thing where there are three times that many in the audience on a Tuesday night after that sold-out opening weekend is pleasing but confusing.

I recalled later on that China Lion was giving out free tickets for Friday's show on Facebook, and while it looked like only a few people took them up on it, maybe there were other promotions going on within the local Chinese community that I didn't know about, not being a part of it and all. It makes me wonder if, for whatever reason, Regal and/or their Fenway theater is more willing to grow this sort of release than AMC was - it's worth noting that there was a poster for their next release, The Golden Era, right outside the screen for this one, a simple enough thing that wasn't always done across town. They had an exclusive contract with AMC before (in the US), and I wonder if it was holding them back, especially in areas like Boston where AMC seems a bit skittish about booking foreign films.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad; I'm looking forward to The Golden Era and I see that someone (whether China Lion or AMC) is going to be distributing Johnnie To's Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 day-and-date in the US next month. And that had better play here.

Anyway, here's the EFC review, and come back after reading it/maybe seeing the movie for a little about something I liked about its ending.

Xin Hua Lu Fang (Breakup Buddies)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, DCP)

Director Ning Hao has received some attention over the last few months because the Chinese censor board finally allowed the release of No Man's Land, a movie from 2009 that he is reluctant to discuss, whether for political reasons or because he has been busy with other projects since. But while his latest, Breakup Buddies, is a much less controversial comedy - one which stands on its own well enough to get laughs from someone who buys a ticket based on the title with no idea that the film is in Mandarin - it's kind of amusing to see the main character also not wanting to be reminded of something from five years ago.

The man in question is Geng Hao (Huang Bo), who is reacting to his divorce in the time-honored, healthy manner of sawing everything he and his wife own in half. It's bad enough that his best friend Hao Yi (Xu Zheng) decides to get Geng Hao back on his feet by dragging him (and his dog Juice) along on a 3,000km road trip to deliver props to a film set with plans for one-night-stands - Hao Yi's specialty - along the way. While each encounter with a new woman is a new misadventure and Geng Hao is adamant that the road trip not pass through Dali, a song he recorded in his brief career as a singer has drawn a thirty-something woman ("Yolanda" Yuan Quan) with her own romantic woes to the vacation spot.

Breakup Buddies is an oddly-paced movie at times; Ning Hao takes a script credited to a dozen or so writers between the story and screenplay and lets each episode play out at a pace measured enough that the players can somewhat recognize the strangeness of the hole they've gotten themselves into this time even as they keep digging. It's somewhat questionably put together at times - there must be a deleted scenes that explains Hao Yi's gun, for instance - and a couple of swerves toward the end are kind of great despite the filmmakers seeming to stumble on where to go next before recovering. It's bumpy, but Ning and company do well in keeping a steady stream of chuckles coming without making things so broad that Geng Hao's honest heartbreak isn't out of place even if it doesn't overpower the funny stuff.

Full review at EFC.


It's not often a movie gets me to say "you got me" out loud, but when this one circles around to reveal that all the scenes with Yuan Quan take place in 2009 and that she was actually playing Geng Hao's ex-wife Kang Xiaoyu was a legitimately great surprise. They kept it going longer than expected, not just in that it lasts up until the almost the end of the movie, but the scene where the two characters meet plays pretty much like it could be 2014 right until they start writing on the wall and I realize, dang, that's even the same dog.

And while I kind of don't get Juice winding up with Geng Hao (he sure seemed like her dog) how well it worked really surprised and pleased me. It's a moment that feels like it could just be a gotcha, a twist that doesn't mean anything and just leaves the audience feeling empty - I've seen enough of those - I wound up liking that he wasn't going to be handed a new love on a silver platter, and also that it was suddenly very difficult to see Xiaoyu as the villain of the piece. She never really seemed mean on the phone, but going along with Geng Hao's perspective on events had sort of been the default way of looking at it. But now we like her, and not only does that mean maybe it wasn't her fault entirely, but that Geng Hao's attempts to erase her from his life is kind of horrible. The catharsis suddenly seems like too much.

That's a pretty darn impressive way to get those ambiguous feelings across rather than just have the actors spit them out; we feel them a lot more directly this way. And I think that's why I like Breakup Buddies a bit more than I might otherwise, given that it is kind of sloppy in places and not always hilarious. It manages a neat trick, and neat tricks are worth supporting.


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