Tuesday, January 07, 2020


Now, look, I'm not going to say for sure that China went for the absolute safest movie choice possible this New Year's Eve after last year, when many bought tickets to A Long Day's Journey Into Night based on a promised "midnight kiss" and got a moody art-house noir rather than the romance that they were expecting, but it certainly would explain the movie with all the cute doggies and kitties and piggy doing really well there last week. It is, if nothing else, exactly what it promises.

Which is fine; I feel no shame whatsoever in choosing the lovable animal movie over stressing myself out with Uncut Gems last night, although I'll get there eventually. One thing I will say is that, of the roughly fifty times I've seen the trailer for Call of the Wild (including four on Saturday!), this is probably the most appropriate pairing, although it also highlighted just how odd that trailer is, in how its dog is clearly at least digitally enhanced in most of its shots: It is too humanly expressive, which seems like a really bad fit for Jack London's novels (although, boy, would I buy some London audiobooks with Harrison Ford reading). Compare it to how the animal team in Adoring gets a whole lot of pathos out of the terrier while pointedly leaving him as a dog.

On top of that, it was kind of odd to follow director Larry Yang's credits and find one of those movies where an athlete plays himself about Stephon Marbury, whom I had completely lost track on when he left the NBA (not that I've been following basketball that closely in a while). Apparently he's become a superstar and tremendously beloved in China, going straight from star player to head coach as he retired, and this movie about this whole thing actually has a neat cast.

Chong Ai (Adoring)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 January 2020 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

Adoring is pretty much exactly the carefully-manufactured crowd-pleaser it looks like, a couple hours of very loyal and smart pets and their owners who dote on each other nearly as much as on them. It is built to have something for everybody and leans hard on its animal co-stars, and is easy enough to dismiss for all that. It's also pretty darn earnest and sometimes just odd enough to catch one by surprise.

The first good boy we meet is Zha, a golden retriever belonging to teenager Jiang Nan (Zhang Zifeng), whose best friend since kindergarten Chen Yeyun (Leo Wu) has recently gone blind. Nearby, Luo Hua (Tan Jianci) asks for his mysophobic neighbor An Ying (Kan Qingzi) to help him rescue a kitten from underneath a car before roping her into looking after it while he's on a business trip. "Fay" Qu Feifei (Yang Zishan) is paranoid about why boyfriend Li Xiang (Wallace Chung Han-Liang) hasn't invited her home yet, until she discovers that his pet Bell is a spoiled pig; her friend Fang Xin (Zhong Chuxi) has just married Zhao Le (William Chan Wai-Ting), although Xin's rottweiler Seven has not exactly accepted the new member of the family. Divorced dad Gao Ming (Yu Hewei) looks after his daughter's cat Angela while Mengmeng (Li Landi) is living with her mother in America, while restaurant delivery man Ade (Kevin Guo Qilin) finds himself relying on a clever terrier to get his deliveries to the right location, only to discover that strays are being rounded up in this fairly posh new neighborhood..

This dog introduces himself to Ade by dragging an actual banana peel from the garbage so that Ade will slip on it and drop some teriyaki chicken, one of several scenes that probably marks him as the smartest of several extremely bright animals. It's actually kind of impressive how well director Larry Yang Zi and animal coordinator David Allsberry's team of handlers build gags around these guys being extraordinary even by movie standards without quite tilting into things being too exaggerated - a few scenes, from this dog avoiding a trap to the kitten adorably laying waste to Ying's shelves full of Lego constructs and tchotchkes are something like half a step away from being cartoons but for really impeccable staging.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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