A Wedding Invitation: Hong Kong Review
Korean romantic comedy maestro Oh Ki-hwan adds a touch of pathos to his latest starring Eddie Peng and Bai Baihe.
Five years after ending their relationship to pursue careers in two different cities, a young couple reunites and ties the knot (not a spoiler), but only after a series of trials, tribulations and misunderstandings in A Wedding Invitation, a pan-Asian collaboration by Korean contemporary romantic-comedy maestro Oh Ki-hwan.
A Wedding Invitation is precisely the kind of hokey and entirely illogical romantic dreck that mega-distributor CJ Entertainment trades in efficiently and that plays so well regionally. Regardless of where one falls on the romantic-melodrama scale, the film is undeniably saleable in most of Asia-Pacific, and the appealing leads, polished production and weepy, couple-friendly subject matter should give the film a buoyant box-office life. Distributors that found success with films like A Moment to Remember and the earlier, groundbreaking Christmas in August should take an interest here, both in Asia and overseas.
The story begins with LiXing (Taiwanese actor Eddie Peng, Cold War) and his girlfriend QiaoQiao (Bai Baihe, Love is Not Blind) breaking up in order to pursue their individual goals -- his in becoming a master chef, hers in industrial design. They make a pact that if in five years neither is married, they’ll get hitched to each other. He stays in Beijing, and she heads off to Shanghai. Five years later, QiaoQiao gets a call out of the blue and an invitation to LiXing’s nuptials. Not so fast. QiaoQiao isn’t quite ready to give LiXing up, and so off she marches to sabotage the wedding. But that’s okay, because it’s not a real wedding; he just needed a way to get her to come see him. They haggle a bit over their mutual stupidity, but a new wrench is thrown into the works when QiaoQiao receives some surprising medical news. That can never be good. Cue tissues.
Similar in tone (at least initially) to Oh’s retro battle-of-the-sexes rom-com The Art of Seduction, Invitation has the kind of contemporary, hip characters and overall vibe that provides a nice contrast to the art-house mainland Chinese fare audiences outside China, and to some degree Asia, are more accustomed to. There is no hardship in Invitation. No struggles to make ends meet, no slogs through mines and desperate flights to urban centers seeking work. The film’s closest thematic rival is Doze Niu’s equally glamorous Taipei-based Love. LiXing and QiaoQiao are thoroughly modern, attractive, ambitious twentysomethings with cool careers and international worldviews who spend their time in the hippest parts of gleaming Beijing and Shanghai. Their best friends are gay MaoMao (played with only a tiny bit of flame by Chinese TV actor Jiang Jingfu) and Zhou Rui (Pace Wu, Reign of Assassins), who grew up in France.
There is no disputing A Wedding Invitation will divide audiences over its fundamentally ludicrous premise, which demands a serious suspension of disbelief. The ridiculous and circuitous route LiXing and QiaoQiao take to happy ever after would not happen in reality (one real conversation is all it would take to end the film). But Invitation never set out to be a realistic portrait of modern relationships; it never pretends to be something it’s not. This is high-grade romantic melodrama, and it’s nearly flawless in its execution. Detractors will hate it, but fans of the genre will adore it. A great deal of credit for the film’s success should go to Bai as the flummoxed QiaoQiao. Though she fails the Bechdel test on every front, Bai keeps a character that could easily slip into shrill and childish far from that quagmire, and Peng matches her step for step when the drama kicks into high gear.
Venue: Hong Kong Filmart
Producer: Jeong Tae-sung, Han Sanping
Director: Oh Ki-hwan
Cast: Bai Baihe, Eddie Peng, Jiang Jingfu, Pace Wu
Screenwriter: Qin Haiyan
Executive Producer: Miky Lee, Wei Xiaobin, Joshua Tong, Zhao Yifang
Director of Photography: Kim Young-ho
Production Designer: Jeffrey Kong Hun Lim
Music: Lee Ji-soo
Editor: Shin Min-kyung
No rating, 105 minutes