Sunday, November 16, 2014

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2

I've been saying this a lot lately, but it bears repeating: How great is it that one can just go to a regular big-city multiplex, plop down the usual amount of money, and see the new Johnnie To movie with a packed crowd while it's still playing in China? It's fantastic, is what it is. And in a week and a half, we'll get the new Pang Ho-cheung one a day or two before Hong Kong. There's probably a limit to how much American multiplexes can support between rapid arrivals from India, China, and occasionally Korea, but wouldn't it be great to see France or Japan get in on this? Someone should dig into the numbers on Box Office Mojo and later home video sales to make a case to distributors that this sort of global release is a good idea.

This matinee screening wasn't as crowded as the opening night crowds from recent weeks, but it was still a big deal. Not to presume too much, but someone Chinese-looking was shooting video in the lobby and there weren't a whole lot of empty seats around me. Lots of discussion after the movie too, it seemed, and I kind of wish that I understood any Chinese, because even if I wasn't going to interject myself into the conversation, I would have been interested in getting a sense of what people thought of the ending, because...

Well, I'll get into the ending after the EFilmCritic review.

Daan gyun naam yu 2 (Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2014 at Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, DCP)

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 repeats quite a bit from part one, from rescuing a weird pet to flirting through facing windows; one character even wryly asks another if she thinks her life is a "to be continued". You might be tempted to deride that as unoriginal, but the idea of a sequel is often to recapture what people liked before, and that's what director Johnnie To and his cast & crew do here - they give us more Don't Go Breaking My Heart, in a way that doesn't have to undercut the original.

It's been about a year since Chang Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) chose humble architect Fang QiHong (Daniel Wu Yan-zu) over her playboy former boss Cheung Shen Ran (Louis Koo tin-Lok), and they're due to be married in a couple of months, as soon as QiHong completes the building in Suzhou that he is working on. While at a fitting for her wedding dress with brother Paul (Vic Chou Yu-min), she manages to land a new job with "Goddess of Stocks" Yang Yangyang (Miram Yeung Chin-wah) - who, it turns out, has just started dating Shen Ran as the two rent office space across the street from each other. She also meets Paul, and while Shen Ran's assistant John (Lam Suet) says he was over Zixin within moments, that doesn't really seem to be the case.

Following up a hit romantic comedy is a minefield - most of the time, filmmakers wind up either rolling back a hard-earned happy ending or having the characters do something else. So what To and regular writers Wai Ka-fai, Ryker Chan, and Yu Xi come up with is actually a really clever solution - drop the third vertex of a love triangle back into a similar situation with a couple of new characters and find a way for at least one of the previous movie's happy couple to be a strong supporting character, even if the other is mostly there via Skype. And while this could be just cheap repetition, the Milkyway Image crew are pretty clever - there are jokes built on bringing back stuff from before and an undercurrent where Shen-ran consciously or unconsciously recreating what happened before gives his character some weight.

Full review at EFC.


What the heck, Milkyway Image guys? What made you thought that ending was a good idea?

For those who just have to know, the film ends with Cheung Shen Ran climbing the 78-story building where QiFeng and Zixin are getting married (the one QiFeng built and used as the huge romantic gesture at the end of the first movie), and Zixin apparent being so astonished at this gesture that she leaves her own wedding with him. QiFeng, who if you remember correctly was an alcoholic at the start of the first movie, meekly lets it happen and sits down to take a drink.

Now, I suppose, within the structure of the movie, it's a happy ending of sorts. Yangyang and Paul are together, and Shen Ran, who never got over Zixin and was either trying to recreate that relationship with Yangyang or couldn't help but notice that it was similar enough to the one with the love of his life, QiFeng is kind of the Baxter for this movie - the nice, dependable guy who doesn't excite his fiancé the way Shen Ran might. Even if this weren't a sequel, this sort of thing would sort of have to be earned. Maybe show QiFeng as boring, not wanting Zixin to continue working after they marry or just otherwise thinking less of her than Shen Ran dose. To, Wai, and company don't really do that, though - he's supportive, funny when we see him, and not turning his head at any big-booped girl that passes his way or crossing creepy lines in expressing how fond he is of Zixin the way Shen Ran is. Even if this were a stand-alone movie, the audience will assume that he and Zixin are together for a reason, and needs a reason to break it off beyond "Shen Ran is sexy and really into her".

But this is a Part II, and we're carrying Part I around with us. We know this building, we've seen how QiFeng supported Zixin when Shen ran was being a jerk, and we just like QiFeng in general. One of the things I was really liking about #2 up to this point was that the filmmakers had found a way to do another romantic comedy with (mostly) the same characters without nullifying the previous one or upending the happily ever after, so why do it at the end, when the audience isn't really thinking in that direction at all. Maybe they'd meant to - maybe we were supposed to get a sense that QiFeng was prioritizing this building over the wedding, or that Zixin realized that she had chosen him because she felt he needed her rather than because she needed him, but it's not really in the final product. Maybe it was cut, maybe they just didn't have Daniel Wu for long enough to do more than what they did, but where the first was in large part about a man who makes himself a better person so that he can become worthy of Zixin, the second doesn't really have that sort of thing going on at all. Shen Ran is the guy he started out as, and the ending isn't earned.

One thing that did kind of amuse me: There was a familiar bit of music that I couldn't quite place going throughout the movie (not the Elton John/Kiki Dee duet that you'd think), at least until Zixin is running off in her wedding dress. I think it's meant to be close enough to "Mrs. Robinson" to not get flagged as copyright infringement but still remind you of the piece.

Anyway, I'm not really angry about this, even if it did wind up causing me to dock the movie half a star for those who care about star ratings. It did mean I came out confused rather than happy, and I just wonder what the thinking was. Did the home crowd want the Shen Ran to win Zixin's heart last time out, leading to this reversal? Is there a third part coming? Were the filmmakers trying to go for surprise in a very predictable genre? I've got no idea, and, again, I kind of wish I could have heard what the folks who are much closer to being the target audience than the one white guy in the room thought.


One non-spoilery question: Do folks say "boops" in Hong Kong? I never actually hear that in the dialog, but it's always in the subtitles when I'd expect to see "boobs". It makes me giggle just a bit more than is probably intended.

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