China/Hong Kong, 2008, colour, 1.85:1, 97 mins.
Director: Zhang Cheng 张承.
Entertaining rom-com riff, about a wedding planner and a marriage scammer, benefits from a strong cast.
Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province, southern China, the present day. Guo (Guo Tao) is a successful wedding planner/MC; Ding Xiaotao (Tao Hong) is a rather less successful marriage scammer, trying to cheat men out of their money but living in an untidy backstreets room. Passing a hotel by chance, and seeing her through the window, Guo helps her out when she needs cash for a drinks bill. He immediately starts to aggressively court her, even installing her in an expensive hotel room when she feels unwell. As Guo’s courting is bad for business, Ding Xiaotao is honest with him about her work, but he still isn’t put off, even when she threatens to leave the city and go home. Moving her into a new flat he owns, Guo is happy to provide her with the necessary cash when she says her mother urgently needs RMB50,000. She hires two migrant workers she meets at one of Guo’s weddings – Guang (Liu Hua) and his nephew Bian Hu (Xiao Jian) – to play family members who’ve come to the city to collect the money. At dinner, Guo hands over RMB10,000 and promises the rest the next day. Afterwards, when Ding Xiaotao refuses to increase Guang’s fee, he and Bian Hu kidnap her and, learning she’s pregnant, try to leverage the situation. Things get more complicated by the fact that Guang and Bian Hu are owed money by slippery labour contractor Yang Baijun (Yue Xiaojun), who is a close friend of Guo, and also by the fact that Bian Hu’s hometown girlfriend, Cuihua (Xie Ailin), suddenly arives on the scene with marriage and money in her eyes.
An offbeat rom-com between a male wedding planner and a female marriage scammer, Marriage Trap 婚礼2008 marked the directing debut of theatre and TV drama writer Zhang Cheng 张承, then 30, following the success of the crime comedy Crazy Stone 疯狂的石头 (2006), which he scripted. Featuring several of that film’s actors – sad-funny Guo Tao 郭涛 and stone-faced Liu Hua 刘桦 (whose film careers got a major boost from Crazy Stone), plus Yue Xiaojun 岳小军 (oftimes also Zhang’s co-writer) – it continued Zhang’s interest in confidence tricksters and comic duplicity that’s also been evident in his subsequent directing bouts (The Suspicious 最佳嫌疑人, 2014; Heart for Heaven 一念天堂, 2015). Though it’s conservative technically, and sometimes has the feel of a script that would work even better on stage, Marriage Trap is an okay rom-com for the period, with excellent chemistry between Guo and actress Tao Hong 陶虹, and enough twists and turns to make the basically simple plot go the distance.
The evergreen Guo, then almost 40, is perfectly cast as the wedding planner/MC whose head is turned one day by a gold-digging scammer and who won’t give up even after she tells him she’s a conwoman. Guo’s brand of comedy fits the character and makes it believable on a rom-com level, while still leaving a smidgeon of doubt as to his motives. Then in her mid-30s, Tao, a synchro swimmer-turned-actress (A Beautiful New World 美丽新世界, 1998; Unfinished Girl 第三个人, 2007) who was about to scale back her career for a while in order to raise a family with husband Xu Zheng 徐峥 (another Crazy Stone alumnus), is also spot-on casting here, playing to her strength for hard-bitten roles with a softer underbelly. Tao makes a completely convincing conwoman who knows she’s not doing the right thing but just can’t give up doing it, even to people she likes. (Zhang resurrected the same kind of character in Heart to Heaven, though as a man.)
As a migrant worker who gets drawn into the money web, the blank-faced Liu shares some beautifully underplayed comedy with Guo, while Yue is equally good in the more extrovert role of a slippery, womanising labour contractor. Marriage Trap isn’t a big, glossy rom-com, and is very local, of its time and focused on Mainland mores and a very bottom-line view of marriage; but a core of realism in all the characters sustains them through the some of the script’s more fanciful developments and also keeps the viewer on board with Guo’s seemingly love-struck innocent. The Big Reveal near the end make more sense of his character than Tao’s but doesn’t derail the movie thanks to its likeable tone.
Technical credits are modest but OK. Cheekily released as a Valentine’s Day attraction, the film grossed almost RMB40 million, a good sum for the time. The Chinese title could be translated as “Wedding(s), 2008 Style”.
Presented by Shanghai Media Group (CN), Polybona Film Distribution (CN), Media Asia Films (HK).
Script: Zhang Cheng, Zhou Zhiyong, Yue Xiaojun. Photography: Jiang Guomin [Venus Keung], Chen Weinian. Editing: Li Jiarong. Music: Yan Lixing, Jin Peida [Peter Kam]. Music design: Jin Peida [Peter Kam]. Art direction: Shi Bin. Costumes: Tao Jing. Sound: Tang Jinzhuang. Visual effects: Zhuo Biru (Asia Legend).
Cast: Guo Tao (Guo), Tao Hong (Ding Xiaotao), Liu Hua (Guang), Yue Xiaojun (Yang Baijun), Xiao Jian (Bian Hu, Guang’s nephew), Xie Ailin (Cuihua, Bian Hu’s girlfriend), Deng Zifeng (Xie Wenxian, Ding Xiaotao’s fiance).
Release: China, 14 Feb 2008; Hong Kong, tba.