Friday, December 5, 2014

Chinese Thanksgiving

Lately, I've been forgetful.  I had a business trip where I thought I was booked at the Marriott but in fact, my reservations were at the Hilton.  For Thanksgiving, I thought I had booked a flight to visit my father on Thanksgiving Day but in fact, I had booked the flight for the day after Thanksgiving.  Fortunately, my father made me aware of this on the day before Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, that was too late to wheedle a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from anyone.  For the first time in my life, I spent Thanksgiving Day alone.  With my gym closed, I was left with few options to amuse myself.  I ended up doing laundry and going to the movie theater

I watched two Chinese films on Thanksgiving Day.  In the morning, I went to the AMC Metreon to see Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2.  In the late afternoon, I went to the Camera 12 in San Jose to see Women Who Flirt.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 starring Louis Koo, Miriam Yeung, Gao Yuanyuan & Vic Chou; with Daniel Wu; directed by Johnnie To; Cantonese & Mandarin with subtitles; (2014)
Women Who Flirt starring Zhou Xun, Huang Xiaoming & Tang Sui; directed by Pang Ho-cheung; Cantonese with subtitles; (2014)

I wasn't particularly bullish on either film but I went to see them mostly based on their pedigree.


I saw Don't Go Breaking My Heart at the 2011 Hong Kong Cinema series presented by the San Francisco Film Society.  Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 is the sequel to that film.  When I read about 2, I wondered if I had seen the original.  I had to confirm it by searching this blog.  During the sequel, they showed some clips from the original as flashbacks which I recalled.  I can say that Don't Go Breaking My Heart was a barely memorable romantic comedy about a love triangle between Louis Koo, Daniel Wu & Gao Yuanyuan.  At the end, Wu's character (Qihong, an architect) wins the heart of Zixin (Gao) over the financier Shen-Ran (Koo).  Despite my luke warm reception, it was a major box office hit in China.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 opens with Zixin engaged to Qihong and a month out from her wedding.  Unemployed in the financial industry, Zixin is able to land a job at Yang Yang Yang's (Miriam Yeung) firm which is coincidentally across the street from Shen-Ran's new offices.  Despite Shen-Ran's womanizing, he and Yang begin a romance and form a high-powered couple.  Shen-Ran is unaware that Zixin works in Yang's office & Yang is unaware that Zixin used to be involved with Shen-Ran.  Simultaneously, Yang begins a friendship with Zixin's brother Paul (Vic Chou) that develops into something more than platonic.  Yang is unaware that Paul is Zixin's brother but after seeing him with Zixin at a bridal gown store, she mistakes Paul for Zixin's groom.  Zixin is unaware her brother is seeing Yang and Yang is, at least initially, unaware that Paul even knows Zixin.  For films like Don't Go Breaking My Heart and its sequel, half the humor is in maintaining these charades with the multiple & simultaneous exposure of the lies guaranteed.

The farce escalates in both emotions and escapades until a climactic showdown on Zixin wedding day.  In an attempt to win Zixin, Shen-Ran climbs the exterior of the high-rise building where Zixin & Qihong's wedding & reception will be held (on the top floor natch).  I won't give away the ending in case there is a Don't Go Breaking My Heart 3 but I will say that I was disappointed in the ending.  Specifically, some of the choices made by the characters seemed disingenuous with what had occurred before.

Like most HK comedies, Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 has zaniness in spades.  Miriam Yeung's Yang seemed particularly unsuited to be a CEO of a boutique trading house who hires Zixin based on her incorrect assessment of the stock market and depends on an octopus to predict stock market movements a la Paul the Psychic Octopus.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 didn't make much more of an impression on me than Don't Go Breaking My Heart.  Miriam Yeung who is quietly becoming one of my favorite HK actresses, acquits herself satisfactorily.  Actually, the entire cast is game but the plot doesn't quite serve them well enough.  I will readily admit that something may be lost in the cultural translation.


I went to see Women Who Flirt despite a lackluster preview reel mainly on the strength of director Pang Ho-cheung's track record.  With Women Who Flirt, I've seen five of his last six films (Love in a Puff, Love in the Buff, Vulgaria & Aberdeen are the other four) and have enjoyed them all to varying degrees.  Of the five Pang film aforementioned, I enjoyed Women Who Flirt the least.

The premise of Women Who Flirt is that Angie (Zhou Xun), a young woman who has harbored a not-so-secret crush on Marco (a former classmate and current co-worker) discovers that he has a serious girlfriend.  Marco (Huang Xiaoming) has put off Angie's romantic advances for years with various excuses but at the heart of it, he thinks of her as "one of the guys."  Angie enlists the help of her best friend May (Sie Yi Lin) in launching a counterattack to win Marco's affection.  May assembles the Barbie Army, a team of young, attractive women (who look like they could be Chinese fashion models) to tutor Angie under the project codename "Women Who Flirt."

What follows is an amusing battle of feminine charms.  Marco's girlfriend Hailey (Tang Sui) is the exaggerated stereotype - baby voice, manipulative, coquettish, etc.  Angie is no match for Hailey who would be a 4 star general if she joined the Barbie Army.  Although silly and vaguely reminiscent of a Hollywood romantic comedy of the 1950s, Women Who Flirt hides a deeply cynical view.  It's clear that Angie is the only adult in the film and her efforts to transform herself into a sexualized and infantilized entity are offensive for both the attempt and the end goal.  Why she would want to be with a slacker and idiot like Marco is beyond me.

However, I must admit that as a broad comedy, Women Who Flirt has its moments.  Zhou & Huang as Angie & Marco have tangible screen chemistry and the Barbie Army's machinations are absurd enough invoke laughter.  At times, Sie Yi Lin as May came close to stealing the film.  Her caterwauling of "I hate you!" was memorable indeed.

At its heart, Women Who Flirt displays a palpable contempt for the women who behave like these women and by extension, the men who are attracted to them.  I guess that is understandable but the film makes it appear as though this behavior is the norm or the standard to which young Chinese women aspire and that may be the real object of the film's contempt.


I notice the Camera Cinemas is showing a few Chinese films in the upcoming weeks.

On December 12, Back in Time (Congcong Nanian) is opening.

On Christmas Day, Love on The Cloud (Wei Ai) is opening.

Women Who Flirt's run at Camera 12 has been extended through at least December 11.

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