If You Are the One 2 -- Film Review

A downbeat and at times wearisome romantic comedy.

ZHUHAI, China -- Three failed weddings and a funeral are the rueful events around which Beijing’s urban elite act out their midlife crisis, commitment-phobia or search for the perfect love in Feng Xiaogang’s "If You Are the One 2."

Though the original film offered nothing particularly revelatory, it coasted on sheer whimsical effervescence thanks to male lead Ge You’s infectious (albeit pig-headed) optimism in winning over the unattainable yet irresistible heroine played by Shu Qi.

In the sequel, the romance feels a bit pallid and the story mirthless, possibly because the lovers still can’t reconcile love and marriage. A sense that there’s a dark lining to every silver cloud reigns.

This is not to say Chinese viewers haven’t embraced the comedy. Feeding on the hype of Part 1, which defeated Red Cliff as China’s box-office champ in 2008, the sequel easily topped the charts, earning an estimated $31.7 million in five days.

Part 2 also made history by becoming the first Chinese film to release in North America (opening on Christmas Eve in eight markets) almost simultaneously as it premiered at home.

In Part 1, flight attendant Smiley (Shu Qi) and retired IT entrepreneur Qin Fen (Ge You) meet at a blind date. They cross emotional barriers during a trip to Japan’s Hokkaido. The sequel begins with Qin’s wedding proposal to Smiley (now called Xiaoxiao in the English subtitles) on the Great Wall. Ever the pragmatist, he reassures her he’s not marrying for love: “Love has an expiration date. I wouldn’t propose if I loved you.”

The engaged couple attends the divorce ceremony of best friends Xiangshan (Sun Honglei) and Mango (Yao Chen). The irony is that it is held with all the rituals and fanfare of a wedding, except the “bride” wears black and their vow is to never make up.

Qin and Xiaoxiao move to the Southern resort of Hainan Island for a trial marriage. The heavenly ambiance of their mountaintop villa becomes a visually delightful backdrop for a fine specimen of screwball comedy as defined by Andrew Sarris — a sex comedy without the sex. Qin’s clownishly slapstick ploys to get frisky with Xiaoxiao, who proves slippery as an eel, are laced with cheeky innuendoes and wordplay typical of Feng.

Qin’s Sisyphean climb up the stairs to the bedroom, the couple’s precarious walk along a suspension bridge, and even his stunt of being a wheelchair-potato to train Xiaoxiao to love him “in sickness and in health” are all Freudian hints of sexual disability in their relationship. Qin just doesn’t turn Xiaoxiao on, and the episode ends on a delicately wrought note of sourness.

The tone further darkens with Xiangshan’s discovery of a serious affliction and builds to a memorial service that is both sentimental and dramatically static. That Xiangshan appears at his own gig does little to dispel the moribund mood. His carpe diem speech on how money isn’t everything may speak to the hearts of a certain segment of mainland Chinese, but for most overseas viewers, the trite message doesn’t justify the ponderous length of this scene. When it concludes with a poem by Xiangshan’s sickeningly angelic daughter, some may wish for his speedier dispatch.

The production comes packaged with all the prerequisites of a Feng Xiaogang hit — beautiful people, swish decor and breathtaking natural scenery. However, product placements are so blatant, they sometimes impede enjoyment of the film. A glaring case is a beauty pageant held at a hotel that happens to be the film’s sponsor. The scenario seems to be devised so the characters can name the hotel a dozen times.

Shu Qi and Ge say their clever lines as silver-tongued alacrity, but there’s a forced vivacious that implies they’re getting weary of the roles they’re given. Having Sun and Yao doesn’t inject any more zest or dramatic interest. In the case of TV-star-turned-screen-actress Yao, she mistakes posing for performing.

Opened: In China (Dec. 22), in the U.S. (Dec. 24)
Sales: Huayi Brothers
Production companies: Huayi Brothers, Beijing Feng Xiaogang Film & Television Culture Workshop, Emperor Motion Pictures, Zhejiang Film & Television Group Ltd.
Cast: Ge You, Shu Qi, Sun Honglei, Yao Chen, An Yixuan, Li Yanwei
Director-screenwriter-executive producer: Feng Xiaogang
Produced by: Wang Zhongjun, Albert Yeung, Wang Tongyuan
Executive producers: Wang Zhonglei, Chen Kuo Fu
Director of photography: Lv Yue
Music: Luan Shu
Costume designer: Zhang Chufeng
No rating, 120 minutes