Review: Marriage with a Liar (2010)

Marriage with a Liar

婚前试爱

Hong Kong, 2010, colour, 1.85:1, 85 mins.

Director: Ye Nianchen 叶念琛 [Patrick Kong].

Rating: 7/10.

Tightly constructed rom-com makes a virtue of its modest budget and lack of starpower.

STORY

Hong Kong, the present day. After seven years, Qiqi (Zhou Xiuna) and her police detective boyfriend Ze (Luo Zhongqian) are about to get married. But after a drunken hen-night four days before the wedding, Qiqi wakes up next morning in bed with Jack (Shen Zhiming), a Taiwan photographer. Later in the day, while lunching with best friends Xue’er (Zhuang Simin) and Meng (Fang Haowen), Qiqi bumps into Jack again, and the four end up having dinner. Afterwards, Jack invites Qiqi to spend the final three days of her unmarried life with him on a business trip to Macau, no strings attached. She agrees, as during the previous night she strongly suspected from a phone call that Ze was being unfaithful to her. It turns out that Ze, while at a loose end with his detective pals Qiang (Hong Tianming) and De (Jin Gang) that night, had accidentally switched mobile phones with goodtime girl Baobao (Yang Ziyao), who had answered Qiqi’s call, and by chance Ze and Baobao had later ended up in bed together. The next morning Baobao, who’s fallen for Ze, suggests they spend the final three days of his unmarried life together, no strings attached. When Qiqi and Ze finally bid their three-day lovers goodbye, they then have to decide whether they’ll get married after all.

REVIEW

Though it has a different cast and characters, Marriage with a Liar 婚前试爱 is essentially a prequel to the 2006 rom-com Marriage with a Fool 独家试爱 by the same writer-director, Hong Kong’s Ye Nianchen 叶念琛 [Patrick Kong], whose pragmatic view of “true love” is this time expressed through two characters’ pre-marital rather than post-marital antics. Ye is a fine example of a thoroughly mainstream film-maker whose movies have as strong a thematic signature as any of his artier cousins’ films, with some half-dozen titles (notably the 2008 L for Love ♥ L for Lies 我的最爱) as well as his co-authored script for Men Suddenly in Black 大丈夫 (2003) purveying a comically cynical view of modern Hong Kong relationships that basically boils down to “love is all about deceiving your partner”. Marriage with a Liar is his tightest and best film yet, with a welcome change of lead actress from regular Deng Lixin 邓丽欣 to the marginally better Zhou Xiuna 周秀娜 and a neatly constructed script that doesn’t push its luck beyond a welcome 85 minutes.

Part of that conciseness may come from working for the first time with money-conscious Hong Kong producer Wang Jing 王晶 [Wong Jing], but it certainly benefits the movie. Whether from intention or budget constraints, the flings themselves (Qiqi’s in Macau and Ze’s in his flat) are never shown and even the final wedding is only fleetingly portrayed. As a result, the film’s focus stays tightly on its central theme of the characters testing their commitment rather than drifting off into a location setpiece or large ensemble gathering. Never using big-name stars, Ye’s films have always been script- rather than celebrity-driven.

With its twin parallel lines of Qiqi’s and Ze’s adventures, this one is his most schematic yet, and for anyone looking for auteurist touches beneath its mainstream front it’s notable how it’s constructed around the figure “three”. The film is in three distinct acts, is grounded in the idea of a third person entering a relationship, is set during three days prior to a wedding, and frequently flashes back “three hours earlier”. On a less auteurist note, it’s probably the first movie to feature a special thanks to a well-known luxury condom in its end titles.

China-born, Hong Kong-based pseudo-model Zhou is way better here than in her previous Vampire Warriors 僵尸新战士 (2010) and brings a touch of trashiness to Qiqi that makes her character’s fling believable. But it’s relative newcomer Yang Ziyao 杨梓瑶, a Hong Kong model so far celebrated only for the size of her breasts, who’s the discovery of the film, making goodtime girl Baobao into a likeable and touching figure: her farewell to Ze is so well played that Ye even shows it twice. The men are considerably weaker, with Taiwan model Shen Zhiming 沈志明 not much more than a pin-up as Qiqi’s fling and Hong Kong’s Luo Zhongqian 罗仲谦 (See You in You Tube 爱斗大, 2008) only a notch or so better as Ze. Supporting performances as the leads’ best friends are lively, in typical rom-com vein, and on a technical level the film is smooth without being glossy.

The Chinese title literally means “Testing Love Before Marriage”.

CREDITS

Presented by Mega-Vision Pictures (HK). Produced by Mega-Vision Pictures (HK).

Script: Ye Nianchen [Patrick Kong]. Photography: Zheng Zhijian. Editing: Li Dongquan [Wenders Li], Mo Wenhao. Music: Deng Zhiwei, Zhuang Dongxin. Art direction: Mo Shaozong [Alex Mok]. Costumes: Zhang Fangdi. Sound: Mai Zhi’an, Yuan Dingye, Zeng Jingxiang [Kinson Tsang].

Cast: Zhou Xiuna [Chrissie Chau] (Qiqi/Kiki), Luo Zhongqian (Ze/Jerry), Yang Ziyao (Baobao), Shen Zhiming (Jack), Zhuang Simin (Xue’er/Cherryl), Hong Tianming (Qiang), Fang Haowen (Meng/Mon), Jin Gang [King Kong] (De/Ted), Mai Changqing (hotel manager), Chen Jiabao (Ann), Lu Songzhi (Shan/Sandy), Gill Mohinderpaul Singh (Indian gangster), Chen Liyun (Baobao’s grandmother), Luo Tianchi (Jack’s friend), Dai Yaoming (conned customer), Li Shahua, Guan Jiamin (hotel guests).

Release: Hong Kong, 23 Dec 2010.

(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 8 Apr 2011.)