Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 96 mins.
Director: Qiu Litao 邱礼涛 [Herman Yau].
Chickflicky autopsy of a failed relationship is superficially written and eccentrically packaged.
Hong Kong, the present day. After more than 10 years together, lawyer Lv Huixin, aka Eva (Cai Zhuoyan), splits up with lawyer-turned-kickboxing trainer Zhang Zhisi, aka Adam (Zhou Baihao), and moves in with a girl friend. At a party, Zhang Zhisi gets drunk and takes home a dental student, Mandy (Wei Yashi), who adores him. Next morning, in the bathroom, she finds a notebook in which Lv Huixin recorded 77 occasions on which Zhang Zhisi disappointed her. (The first was when he was late meeting her at a cinema, and she went into a gift shop and bought the notebook.) Mandy stays at the flat reading the notebook while Zhang Zhisi is at work. At a lunch with some girl friends, Lv Huixin is surprised when she’s told that Zhang Zhisi has been spotted with another woman. Meanwhile, Zhang Zhisi takes Mandy along to a dinner at a fancy restaurant with his wealthy father (Yu Yang) and snobbish step-mother (Sun Jiajun). Zhang Zhisi has never forgiven his father for divorcing his mother when she had terminal cancer, and the tense dinner ends badly when Zhang Zhisi says he intends to marry Mandy, even though he’s only known her for three days. Back at the flat, Mandy shows Zhang Zhisi the notebook she found and, as he reads it, old memories flood back.
Though 77 Heartbreaks 原谅他77次 isn’t a train wreck on the scale of Sara 雏妓 (2014) – the last collaboration between Hong Kongers Cai Zhuoyan 蔡卓妍 [Charlene Choi], director Qiu Litao 邱礼涛 [Herman Yau] and his regular writer Li Min 李敏 [Erica Li] – it’s in a genre, the relationships movie, that exposes the weaknesses of all three rather than their strengths. As the entertaining Shock Wave 拆弹专家 (2017) recently underlined, Qiu is at his best in tabloid action drama rather than more intimate stuff dealing with social issues or feelings, and Twins singer Cai, even at the age of 34 and after more than 50 movies, still has the habit of going blank-faced when called upon to play anything other than bubbly. On the writing side, Li adapts her own 2016 novel of the same name but, like many of her original scripts, it’s built on an idea that’s more cute than truthful, and one which requires better development, a stronger cast and subtler direction than it gets here.
Using a loose structure in which things and events in the present trigger memories of the past, the film is basically – or should be – an autopsy of a failed relationship after more than 10 years together. Lv Huixin, aka Eva, walks out on Zhang Zhisi, aka Adam, and goes to stay with a girl friend; he gets drunk, beds an adoring student, and she moves in with him. But then a notebook surfaces in which Lv Huixin had listed 77 occasions on which Zhang Zhisi disappointed her over the years – a notebook that Zhang Zhisi finally gets to read, sparking more memories. The whole cute, chickflicky idea of the notebook – bought at a gift shop called, yes, Heartbeat Shutter 心跳快门 – requires a more magical style of direction than Qiu’s harder-edged one, as well as a sustained suspension of disbelief.
The film seems unable to decide whether it’s a probing relationships drama or an excuse for a local character comedy. Personalities and pals keep popping up in cameos that are either out-of-place or too knowing, and further undermine the tone: Cai’s Twins partner, Zhong Xintong 钟欣潼 [Gillian Chung], as the mysterious gift-shop owner, Huang Qiusheng 黄秋生 [Anthony Wong] as a sad lawyer, a wild-looking Wu Zhenyu 吴镇宇 [Francis Ng] as a photographer, Hui Yinghong 惠英红 [Kara Hui] and Zheng Danrui 郑丹瑞 [Lawrence Cheng] as squabbling parents and, most damagingly of all, hip-hop artist Zheng Shijun 郑诗君 as a camp, blond-haired suitor of Cai’s character. Added to which, there’s the basic problem of accepting Cai as a lawyer (despite copious office scenes of her looking severe in a business suit) and her co-star, Hong Kong actor-singer Zhou Baihao 周柏豪, 32, as a lawyer-turned-kickboxing trainer. (No, really.) Of the two, Zhou, who was fine as the other half in My Wife Is a Superstar 我老婆係明星 (2016), actually comes off as marginally more believable, though he generates little chemistry with Cai and even less with actress Wei Shiya 卫诗雅, 32, who works hard in the poorly written role of the new girlfriend.
The over-stretched plot, with its elongated finale, is more a collection of small events, few of which are ever developed beyond the obvious: a strained dinner with Zhang Zhisi’s (wealthy) father and step-mother, an equally strained one with Lv Huixin’s (working-class) parents, and so on. Typical of the script’s superficiality is a flashback in which the couple visit an inn in Japan once used by director Ozu Yasujiro 小津安二郎: the scene ticks a filmy box but has no point beyond that. As an autopsy of a failing relationship, compare 77 Heartbeats with, say, the Mainland-set Love Will Tear Us Apart (2013) or the Hong Kong-set, equally flashbacky Ex (2010), starring Zhong in one of her finest screen roles, and its shortcomings are obvious.
Technically the film is variable. Photography by Ni Wenxian 倪文贤, who’s worked on 2nd unit and as a camerawoman for Qiu’s regular d.p. Chen Guanghong 陈广鸿 [Joe Chan], doesn’t build a sustained metaphysical feel. The Chinese title means “Forgive Him 77 Times”. In the Mainland, the film took a polite RMB74 million.
Presented by Emperor Film Production (HK), Stellar Mega Films (CN).
Script: Li Min [Erica Li]. Novel: Li Min [Erica Li]. Photography: Ni Wenxian. Editing: Zhong Weizhao [Azrael Chung]. Music: Mai Zhenhong [Brother Hung]. Theme song music: Liang Bingren. Lyrics: Li Min [Erica Li]. Vocals: Cai Zhuoyan [Charlene Choi], Zhou Baihao. Art direction: Pang Sihao. Costumes: Bai Xipo. Sound: Guo Zhiwen, Ye Zhaoji [Ip Siu-kei]. Visual effects: Yi Nuo, Li Zifei (Herbgarden).
Cast: Cai Zhuoyan [Charlene Choi] (Lv Huixin/Eva), Zhou Baihao (Zhang Zhisi/Adam), Huang Qiusheng [Anthony Wong] (Bai, lawyer), Zhong Xintong [Gillian Chung] (Heartbeat), Wei Shiya (Mandy), Lu Qiaoyin (Bondy), Zheng Xiyi (Cat), Lei Chenyu (Daisy), Zheng Shijun (NT Deng, Daisy’s boss), Lu Yong (Ronnie), Lin Shengbin (Vincent), Xu Zhiyong (Francis), Hui Yinghong [Kara Hui] (Lv Huixin’s mother), Zheng Danrui [Lawrence Cheng] (Lv Huixin’s father), Li Huimin, Zhai Kaitai, Rosa Maria Velasco (clients of Lv Huixin), Sun Jiajun (Zhang Zhisi’s step-mother), Wu Zhenyu [Francis Ng] (Shutter, Heartbeat’s elder brother), Yu Yang (Zhang Zhisi’s father).
Premiere: Osaka Asian Film Festival (Competition), 10 Mar 2017.
Release: Hong Kong, 15 Jun 2017; China, 23 Jun 2017.