HKIFF 2011: DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART Review

James Marsh, Asian Editor

The 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival opens on 20 March with the world premiere of the latest romantic comedy from directorial partners Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai.

DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART tells the story of Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan), a sweet-natured but heartbroken office girl who falls for a high-flying city boy she spies from her office window. Cheng (Louis Koo) runs a finance company and lives his life moment by moment, especially when it comes to relationships. He immediately asks Zixin out to dinner, only to be distracted by a more instantly gratifying proposition and stands her up. Zixin then crosses paths with Fang (Daniel Wu), an accomplished, yet disillusioned architect, who has given up on his career to become a drunk. When he saves her from a traffic collision, Zixin rewards Fang with her ex-boyfriend's bountiful wine collection, and also offloads his hideous pet frog. They spend the evening together, laying the ghost of her previous relationship to rest, but any possibility of a relationship evaporates when Cheng is revealed as Zixin's new CEO.

So the stage is set for a love triangle that will cause all three participants a good deal of anguish and heartache before it is resolved. Zixin can't help but succumb to Cheng's undeniable charms and wealth that see her perpetually showered with gifts ranging from an impressive apartment to a brand new Maserati, but at a price. Cheng proclaims that all men fall into one of two categories: those who cheat and those who want to. While he proposes to Zixin so quickly that she actually refuses him at first, he confesses that there is no guarantee he'll stay faithful. Meanwhile, Fang is getting along famously with his new amphibious houseguest, who takes on the role of confidante and sponsor to help Fang ditch the booze and start sketching again. He cuts his hair, shaves off the beard and opens a new architectural firm in Cheng's old office space. It doesn't take long for Zixin to notice her new neighbour and finally Fang and Cheng come face to face.

For the most part DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART is an enjoyable comedy, if rather overlong and not particularly profound. The script provides a healthy number of laughs throughout and commendably manages to keep the audience guessing which of the two leading men Zixin will end up with right until the very end. However this is partly due to the indecisive Zixin, who goes back and forth between her suitors far more times than perhaps necessary, and in doing so sometimes provokes frustration rather than sympathy for our heroine. But for the most part Gao Yuanyuan does an effective job of portraying the naïve good girl simply looking for her Mr. Right.

Louis Koo has the more challenging of the two male roles and manages to make Cheng likable, while still showing him up as a callous womanizer. He is upfront about his reluctance to settle down and be monogamous, is more than capable of turning on the charm to get his own way, but only too aware that he can also play brazen and pompous and still keep the girls interested. Cheng has a goofy side which we glimpse on occasion, but also some pretty awesome skills, as witnessed when he scales the side of a building to get into Zixin's apartment. Fang is certainly the safer bet for Zixin, at least once he's shaken off his inexplicable homeless wino phase, and Daniel Wu is perfectly suited to this kind of artistic, sensitive character. He lacks Cheng's dynamism and charisma, but he cooks, he sketches and apparently can communicate meaningfully with pond life.

Also featured at this year's HKIFF is a retrospective of Wai Ka-fai's career to-date, and while DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART is unlikely to be remembered as a highlight of either director's career, it seems all-too-aware of its station as mainstream date-night entertainment, and never aspires to be anything more. Make no mistake, this is certainly not essential viewing, but for its enthusiastic performances, for maintaining audience interest right to the end, and if nothing else, for the story arc awarded to "Froggy," it earns a light-hearted recommendation.  

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