China/Taiwan, 2013, colour, 2.35:1, 96 mins.
Director: Wu Lin 吴林.
Uneven collection of cross-straits romantic tales is strongest at the start.
The present day. I: Taibei, winter. Xiaomeng (Zhang Meng), a one-year exchange student from Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, is packing in order to fly home the next day when she gets a call from a Taiwan friend, Xiaosi (Wang Yingkai). She’s still hurt from a man leaving her a while ago; meanwhile, Xiaosi is secretly in love with her, though he hasn’t declared his feelings. The two spend her last day and night together, walking and eating their way round Taibei, and travelling up Yangmingshan on his motorbike so she can see the dawn. II: Chengdu, the present day. After being married two-and-a-quarter years, online novelist Li Xiaogang (Huang Yue) and his singer wife Xie Xiaojia (Miao Tingru) are divorcing. On their last day together in their flat, they are called by a TV director friend, Hao (Cui Lin), to take part in the celebrity series Golden Couple 黄金夫妻当. Li Xiaogang reluctantly agrees. The programme begins harmoniously, but gradually becomes more barbed as they remember their past, starting with how they first met four years earlier on a music video. Afterwards, walking around together, they bump into Xiaosi, who asks them the way to Chengdu University. III: Jiuzhaigou national park, northern Sichuan province, the present day. Wang Siyu (Zhuo Yutong), from Taiwan, is travelling in the Mainland to forget the man in her life, Sen (Zheng Pang’an). By a lake she bumps into Li Xiaogang and Xie Xiaojia, there on their second honeymoon. She next meets a painter (Cheng Qian), who is still grieving over the loss of his wife in the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Wang Siyu passes out in the woods and is found by her Tibetan tour guide, Dorji (Suolangnima), who has secretly fallen for her. He takes her to the house of his uncle, Erjia, and the latter’s wife.
A collection of three (peripherally linked) cross-straits tales on the themes of love lost and gained, and of new understanding, I Believe 爱别离 (aka Love Distance) marks an uneven but generally well-played debut by Anhui-born director Wu Lin 吴林, a CCTV and music-video director in his early 50s. The mixed Mainland-Taiwan cast blend okay – notably in the opening tale, which pairs actress-singer Zhang Meng 张檬 (horror The Deserted Inn 荒村客栈, 2008, but better known for TV dramas) with Taibei-born dancer-model Wang Yingkai 王盈凯 in a thin but touching tale of unrequited love that gets by on its unaffected simplicity and 25-year-old Zhang’s happy-sad performance. Nothing else in the film quite matches this opening, though the middle story, about a celebrity couple who have second thoughts on the edge of divorce, has a clever set-up and solid playing by Mainland singer Huang Yue 黄阅 and actress Miao Tingru 缪婷茹.
The most conventional segment is the last, a romantic drama set in Sichuan province’s picturesque national park Jiuzhaigou (a location for many films, including Hero 英雄, 2002, by Zhang Yimou 张艺谋), with a lovesick young Taiwan woman learning from her Tibetan guide that happiness comes from simplicity, not from worrying. Actress-presenter Zhuo Yutong 卓予童, a graduate of Channel V’s talent show Le Tea Girls, is pretty but pretty bland, as is her dialogue. Technical credits are good throughout, with versatile widescreen photography by Li Hongye 李宏业 that’s equally at home in the streets and hills of Taibei as in the scenic beauties of Jiuzhaigou.
The English title mimics the sound of the Chinese one (ài bié lí), which actually means “Love, Don’t Leave”. The English title on posters, but not the film itself, is Love Distance. Its production title was 明天 (“Tomorrow”).
Presented by Sichuan Yingming Film & TV Art Culture (CN), Beijing Jing Qi Culture (CN), Moli Moli Media (TW). Produced by Sichuan Yingming Film & TV Art Culture (CN).
Script: Yang Chen. Photography: Li Hongye. Editing: Lv Lingfeng. Music: Zhang Mengmeng. Art direction: Bao Wenguo. Sound: Geng Liang, Yang Ming.
Cast: Zhang Meng (Xiaomeng), Huang Yue (Li Xiaogang), Miao Tingru (Xie Xiaojia), Zhuo Yutong (Wang Siyu), Suolangnima (Dorji, Tibetan tour guide), Wang Yingkai (Xiaosi), Liang Xiaoheshi (university student), Cheng Qian (painter), Yang Yaqi (TV presenter), Cui Lin (Hao, TV director), Ji Li (manager), Yan Bin (Chun), Wang Nenghe, Cai Yiping (Xiaomeng’s fellow students), Lin Minjie, Huang Hongchun (guitar duo), Zheng Pang’an (Sen).
Release: China, 18 Sep 2013; Taiwan, tba.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 2 Aug 2014.)