Ex -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- The second feature from writer-director Heiward Mak pivots on the kind of fiery/passionate romantic relationships that only happen in the movies, with lots of smashing tableware and banging of furniture, and women losing all sense of dignity when confronted with the prospect of losing a so-called good man. "Ex" is the latest in a string of relationship dramas from around Asia that, on the surface, explore the confounding terrain of contemporary commitment but never really dig deep enough to say anything fresh or enlightening about shifting gender relations in the region.

"Ex" will have limited appeal outside of Asia, where star Gillian Chung's 2008 naughty-picture scandal still has some traction. Chung's first major film work since then should peak interest in the film (pretty but not too sexy, wounded but not bitter), but a targeted art house release is more likely than a wide one. Being neither artsy enough nor genre-rooted could also hinder festival play for programmers looking for a specific angle. "Ex" will ultimately find a more suitable home on television.

In a mashup of "Desperately Seeking Susan," "(500) Days of Summer," and the South Korean rom-com "Singles," Zhou Yi (Chung) crashes at her ex-boyfriend's house after a pre-vacation airport spat sees her ending things with her current beau, Woody. While staying with the screamingly bland Ping (William Chan) and his new, slightly desperate squeeze Cee (Michelle Wai), she reminisces about their time together, much to the chagrin of Cee. Yi and Ping mope around, fight, almost fall into bed together and eventually decide to call it quits for good, which sends the flighty Yi back to the airport and on a trip to (presumably) find herself.

It's a touch surprising that "Ex" waffles back and forth initially in tone and early on sends the message that it can't settle on any one; Mak wrote another HKIFF entry this year, Pang Ho Cheung's superior "Love in a Puff." When we meet Yi and she insinuates her way into Ping's flat her character recalls the "Here comes trouble" vibe of the aforementioned "Susan," and it seems that Yi is going to be a wild element (for Hong Kong) that Ping will have to get a handle on. That tack is quickly dropped in favor of a more traditional flashback romance that illustrates how the couple got from A to B ("(500)"). Finally the melancholy makes an appearance at around the same time Wai is forced to unleash Cee's inner pathetic single girl -- complete with grabbing onto Ping's retreating legs.

The capable cast is unable to stand out against an irritating soundtrack that's part folksy navel gazing guitar pluck and part female-identified "Grey's Anatomy" angsty navel gazing guitar pluck. Combine that with several disjointed and quite random narrative asides that serve no purpose beyond indulging comedian/producer Chapman To -- in cameo as a Chinese medicine practitioner -- and visuals and language that flirt with standard -- Ping and Yi's happier past is laced with vivid hues, the present has a bleached out colorlessness -- and it adds up to a whole lot of "Meh."

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival Closing Night (world premiere)
Sales: Emperor Motion Pictures
Production company: Rex Film Productions Co. Ltd.
Cast: Gillian Chung, William Chan, Michelle Wai, Derek Tsang
Director: Heiward Mak
Screenwriter: Heiward Mak
Executive producer: Albert Lee
Producer: Chapman To
Director of Photography: O Sing-pui
Production Designer: Ahong Cheung
Music: Eman Lam
Editor: Shirley Yip
No rating, 96 minutes
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