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Demonstrating that sappiness recognizes no international borders, Beijing Love Story belies its title by presenting a series of intertwined love stories taking place in that capital city. A spin-off of the hugely popular 2012 Chinese television series of the same name, this directorial debut by Chen Sicheng is too diffuse and understated to achieve crossover success. But Chinese moviegoers both home and abroad will likely flock to the film which is receiving a day-and-date release with the Mainland, appropriately on Valentine’s Day.
The filmmaker also plays a leading role in the first segment, portraying Feng, an impoverished young man who quickly falls in love, impregnates and proposes to a beautiful young woman (Tony Liya) from an affluent family. But the relationship doesn’t sit well with the woman’s status-obsessed mother or her still-besotted ex-boyfriend who both do their best to derail the couple’s happiness.
Other intertwined segments involve Feng’s married best friend (Wang Xuebing) whose wife (Yu Nan) discovers his rampant infidelity and becomes determined to get revenge in kind; a high school student (Liu Haoran) who finds himself besotted with a young cello prodigy (Nana Ou Yang) because of her “aura,” only to be crushed when she leaves him to go to England and attend a private school; the girl’s father (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who heads to Greece to reunite with his longtime mistress (Carina Lau), with the assignation spoiled by his angry discovery that she’s had plastic surgery; and the boy’s grandfather (Wang Qinxiang), who’s set up on a series of disastrous blind dates by his cousin matchmaker (Siqin Gaowa). When he finally meets a woman who seems suitable, his happiness becomes short-lived when a tragic secret is revealed.
The tyro director/screenwriter, clearly influenced by American movies ranging from Love, Actually to Titanic — the latter is referred to several times — is not fully successful in tying together the multiple storylines in coherent fashion, with the occasional doses of magical realism injected into the proceedings feeling particularly strained. Ultimately, the film’s attempt at blending humor, poignancy and melodrama results in an awkward mish-mosh. But it has heart to spare, and the performances by the multi-generational ensemble are very effective, with particularly moving work by the veterans in the cast.
Opens: Friday, Feb. 14 (China Lion Film)
Production: Wanda Media Company, Shine Entertainment Media Company
Cast: Tony Leung ka Fai, Wang Xuebing, Siqin Gaowa, Carina Lau, Tong Liya, Jin Yanling, Yu Nan, Wang Qinxiang, Chen Sicheng
Director/screenwriter: Chen Sicheng
Producer: Li Chen
Not rated, 122 min.
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