'All You Need Is Love' ('Luopao Ba, Aiqing!'): Film Review
Richie Jen's directorial debut features lots of eye candy, a pedestrian plot and interesting commentary on Taiwan-China relations.
In this directorial debut of Taiwanese singer and actor Richie Jen, his brand of boyish cutesiness works better as a lubricant for Taiwan-China travel relations than it does as one more cliche in a rom-com already sagging with them. Even natural charmer Shu Qi’s stardust fails to save the mundane storyline — so shoddy a job have Jen and his team made of the script. The only things that aren't shallow are the bejeweled bays of the Penghu archipelago, which the film presents in a surprising number of glamorous aerial shots, alongside great diving and sightseeing opportunities, tantalizing seafood, charming locals and even an aquarium.
Ever since Taiwan opened its doors to Chinese visitors a few years ago, mainstream Taiwan-China co-productions like this one have doubled as 'tourism ambassadors' for the island. And it should work in this instance — Penghu looks absolutely splendid on-screen — if there was enough audience. Unfortunately this doesn’t look to be the case in the first two weeks of the film’s release. Outside of Greater China, there’s a chance the film may draw some attention in selective screenings, given Shuqi’s post-The Assassin aura, but likely it will do best within Chinese communities.
Fen Fen (Shu Qi, The Assassin, Millennium Mambo, The Transporter, So Close), a pretty nouveau-riche from Shanxi, makes a solitary trip to Penghu (Pescadores Islands) where she meets a bumbling B&B owner, Wu (Richie Jen). Their initial interactions leave her annoyed and him confused. The trope of the vulnerable rich girl falling for the poor boy with a heart of gold may be old, but it does not on its own break a movie if it is fleshed out well. Here it is not. The predictable plot is carried along by events as trite as the repartees and the stock emotions they trigger. Even Shu Qi’s nuanced acting makes little impact because the situations she finds herself in are puerile. If her emotional outbursts make you want to scream, try to take solace in the thought that it could have been worse had someone less fetching played the role.
For all her talent and charisma, Shu Qi fails as an extravagant upstart from Shanxi, a province known for its lucrative coal mines. Sure, Fen Fen has a penchant for big hats, loud floral dresses and ostentatious spending, and lets slip the occasional dialect, but she is nothing like a woman from Shanxi. A rich girl from Taiwan, perhaps.
Richie Jen is all wholesome dungareed goodness as Wu, but the issue is not the fit but the predictability of his character and the self-consciousness. Jen took China and Hong Kong by storm when he released the sappy ballad 'Too Soft-hearted' in 1997, which went on to become the anthem of all spurned and self-pitying Chinese men. Since then, the image of Mr. Nice stuck. Despite a couple of stints as a villain under helmer Johnnie To, he’s still very much remembered as the caring boy next door, cute and sun-kissed yet overlooked by girls (at least initially). In this film which he co-directs with Andy Luo (Bang Bang Formosa), the Jen cuteisms are full-on — the endearing blunders, the sweet feet-in-the-mouth, the starry-eyed indignance, the puppy-dog tears. But too many Jen cuteisms make Wu a dull boy. Let's not forget the actor is 51, not 11. Calling himself 'handsome' once too often and frequent referrals to his own songs give the impression it’s all ego-driven.
What’s most interesting about the film is that embedded in Wu’s attitude towards Fen Fen and her money-minded father who tries to buy his way up the world is commentary on Taiwanese interactions with China. Taiwan may be rustic and backwards, compared to big Chinese cities, but it is clean, beautiful and welcoming. Taiwan may never win a financial wrestle with China, but what it lacks in money, it more than makes up for in integrity and 'heart.' When Fen Fen questions Wu about her uncle, he says, 'Dignity matters more than money.' But despite the moral pride, Wu is not above adapting his Penghu seafood noodles to make them more palatable to Fen Fen, just as the film delivers its message with a dollop of self-ridicule and a large dose of eye-candy cinematography. It wouldn't be surprising If it succeeds in winning visitors to Taiwan, even if not the cinema.
Production company: Power Generation Entertainment Co. Ltd.
Cast: Richie Jen, Shu Qi, Ti Lung, Lego Lee, Lu Kung Wei
Director: Richie Jen, Andy Luo
Screenwriter: Richie Jen, Andy Luo
Producer: Virginia Liu, Lin Tian Gui
Executive producer: Peter Lam, Andy Chen, Simon Ko, Virginia Liu, Eddie Chen, Shen Hui Cheng, Ling Yat Ming
Director of photography: Randy Che
Production designer: Yang Chuan Shen, Lin Zhong Xian
Costume designer: Wang Yi Fei
Editor: Wenders Li
Music: Kola Kai
World sales: Media Asia Film