Thursday, December 25, 2014

Love on the Cloud

Ah, the movie that gets a same-day release in China and the USA. A cool practice which probably helps cut down on piracy a lot, but leaves those of us trying to write about the movie pretty high and dry and forcing us to pull out our phones and take one of these:

"Love in the Cloud" end credits

... if we're going to refer to anybody by name in the review.

There's no other excuse for this, folks. Heck, I don't know if this counts as a valid reason to have one's phone out in a movie theater and I feel terrible when I wind up doing it. I need to find an English-friendly Chinese movie database that updates as quickly as the IMDB does (and one for Bollywood, and one for...).

A couple thoughts not really related to the movie itself were already in my head before I even went to the movie and sort of amplified as I wrote:

(1) The only thing that keeps me from referring to the highly likable young female lead of this movie as "Angela Yeung" or "Yeung Wing" is that all the English-language material for it and most every other movie I've seen her in (or heard exists that she was cast in) refers to her as "Angelababy", and I want to actually get hits when someone searches for that name. I suppose I could put that in quotes the first time she's named, but every way to do it looks wrong: Angela "Angelababy" Yeung. "Angelababy" Yeung Wing. Or even - ugh - Angela "Angelababy" Yeung Wing.

Hey, it's working for her - she's twenty-five and having a pretty nice career. But, man, the only stage name I feel dumber typing is that of Japanese actress "You" (which, at least, I think actually rhymes with "tow"), and that's because it makes me feel like I've been committing crimes against grammar.

(2) Unfortunately, I'm writing this with my calendar filled with movie tickets in another state, which makes it harder to check, but I feel like I've seen more Chinese romantic comedies this year than American ones. Now, part of this is some pretty fierce selection bias - I go to nearly every Chinese movie that plays Boston because I want to encourage more to do so, and two of my favorite Chinese directors had releases in the genre in November, while I tend to prioritize the genre fairly low on the "must see on the big screen" category otherwise (and, man, let's not even get into how the ones with black leads can really fly under my radar if I'm not careful).

Still... It seems like there just aren't that many movies in the genre being made in the U.S., despite it being at various times Hollywood's backbone. Part of it's the disappearance of the mid-budget movie that affects a lot of genres, part of it is how there really haven't been any new stars to fill certain voids on both sides of the camera: Jennifer Lawrence would be a ton of fun in movies like that, but she's tied to two big action franchises. Lynn Shelton feels like she could be the next Nora Ephron - she is really good at giving sitcommy premises a bit more life than one might expect - but the studios haven't come calling. Plus, a lot of movies that might have become romantic comedies in previous years have become female-friendship/sisterhood stories first and foremost (think The Other Woman and the work of Paul Feig).

I think that as a whole, it's actually a pretty good trend that such female-ensemble comedies and lady-led action movies exist a lot more than they had before, but the traditional "date movie" seems almost defunct. Think of it - what are the big romantic comedies of the year? I'm coming up with Blended and Top Five, with Laggies barely getting out of the boutique houses and They Came Together almost entirely relegated to video on demand for no good reason that I can come up with. Seriously, Adam Sandler is in both romantic comedies that Hollywood put into multiplexes this year? That's insane.

Maybe I'm missing something; I hope so. It just seems like this is a genre that should be Hollywood's workhorse - relatively inexpensive but netting good returns, a good way to build new stars in supporting roles, appealing to men and women, young and old - and it's all but gone, while Bollywood cranks new ones (with songs!) out every other week and China has a thriving business in them. I realize that a lot of recent examples of the genre have been bad or lazy and a film industry looking for sure bets probably feels that romantic chemistry is more volatile than big explosions, but it just seems really weird that the only movies of this type playing the local theater had to cross the Pacific to get there.

Love on the Cloud

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 December 2014 at Regal Fenway #8 (first-run, DCP)

There's a potentially great movie-industry satire inside Love on the Cloud, wrapped in a layer of romantic comedy just thick enough that a viewer will likely wonder whether director Gu Chang-wei and company are doing for something very clever or are the victims of the very thing they are attempting to send up. The film is pulling itself in so many different directions that I can't begin to guess which scenario is the case, which is a bummer, because it manages a lot of smiles when things line up.

It opens with three young would-be filmmakers relatively new to Beijing pitching their movie Living with the Werewolf to potential investor Ms. Ma (Heidi Wong) - writer Sha Guo (Michael Chen), cinematographer Ma Dai (Cao Lu), and director/star Huang Xiaogang (Edward Zhang). She likes it, but she'd like it a little more (and be willing to invest correspondingly) if her company Little Bull Beef's product could somehow be integrated into the plot. That means it's rewriting time for Sha Guo, who also gets a message on the Wechat app from Chen Xi (Angelababy), a gorgeous model who saw that the guy with the Shar-pei dog as an avatar also lives in Beijing's trendy Shuanjing neighborhood, and soon has roped him into looking after her Shar-pei Mo Chou even as he quickly falls for her despite having progressively more outlandish rewrites to keep him busy.

One of those requests involves creating a part for one of China's most popular actors where none previously existed, and I wonder if this may have happened in real life: The thing that moves much of the story along is how this movie is becoming less and less like what the "Three Dreamers" imagined while the promised budget inflates with each new demand, and that's about the guys... And yet there's Angelababy, credited first but popping in and out of what is really Michael Chen's picture. There's also a weird diversion into another genre that happens just as Ms. Ma requests such a thing. Gu and company do this stuff without much in the way of winking at the audience (or at least, none that makes its way from Mandarin to English via the subtitles), and it's admittedly impressive that they're able to reflect their jokes about things which ruin movies in such a dry manner without them actually ruining the movie.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: