China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 92 mins.
Director: Ma Chucheng 马楚成 [Jingle Ma].
Slick, totally generic rom-com is kept afloat by sheer technique and some lively performances.
Beijing, 8 Jun 2008. Qian Xiaoqiong (Dong Jie) wakes up in bed next to her ex-husband Gu Shi (Zhang Liang); when she asks him whether they had sex, he says yes, and it was she who invited him back to her flat. (They had first met on 6 Sep 2004, as classmates on their first day at college. In their third year they finally made love in a hotel room. When she got pregnant, he proposed and they hurriedly married; but when they visited his grandparents, she fell and lost the baby. The doctor said she had only a 30% chance of conceiving again, so, seeing his grandparents’ disappointment, she broke up with him. Gu Shi, who studied fashion design, went into business with his half-American best friend Wang Yifan [Mike Sui]; she bought a new flat as an investment. It was after they met again at their drunken graduation party in Jun 2008 that Gu Shi and Qian Xiaoqiong ended up in bed.) Both of them decide to get married again. But when Gu Shi breaks the news to Tang Yinglei (Feng Jing), his sometime girlfriend after breaking up with Qian Xiaoqiong, she gets him drunk and into bed. After Tang Yinglei tells Qian Xiaoqiong, and shows her a photo, the latter ditches Gu Shi again and flies off to Melbourne, Australia, where her parents live. In Mar 2009 Gu Shi bumps into Sima Yueyue (Sun Qian), who is now officially dating Wang Yifan after years of him courting her since college. Sima Yueyue is still furious at Gu Shi’s betrayal of her best friend, but calms down when she hears Gu Shi’s side of the argument. Tang Yinglei also apologises to Gu Shi for showing Qian Xiaofang the photo out of spite. Six years later, in 2015, Gu Shi wins the Asian Fashion Design Award and Wang Yifan and Sima Yueyue announce that Qian Xiaoqiong is coming to Beijing to attend their wedding. When she does, everyone is in for a surprise.
A totally generic rom-com that’s kept afloat by sheer technique and some lively performances, Three Weddings 爸爸的3次婚礼 is the first film in five years by that master of mainstream fluff, Hong Kong d.p.-turned-director Ma Chucheng 马楚成 [Jingle Ma]. Still best known for a clutch of films around the turn of the century (romantic fantasy Fly Me to Polaris 星愿, 1999; action-comedy Tokyo Raiders 东京攻略, 2000; rom-com Summer Holiday 夏日的么么茶, 2000), Ma, 60, has turned in a production that’s highly polished on every level except the script. Undeniably entertaining on an in-flight-movie level, it’s the kind of film that could quietly slip onto guilty-pleasure lists and be used as a teaching aid on mainstream packaging. But in the present saturated Mainland market, when a rom-com needs something special to succeed, it looks like just another blow-and-throw movie.
Ma was an early convert to Mainland financing and production, reaching a peak with his costume action film Mulan 花木兰 (2009). But after the box-office flops of two genre films in 2011 – beach rom-com Love You You 夏日乐悠悠 (RMB4 million) and female racing driver drama Speed Angels 极速天使 (RMB25 million), both 100% China-financed – Ma fell off the public radar after 25 years as a d.p. and over a decade as a director. If fact, he was still around, with several unrealised projects over the next few years, and Weddings was actually shot back in summer 2014. Alas, it registered hardly a blip (RMB940,000) at the Mainland box office in late Dec 2016, and promptly vanished without trace – one of several casualties in the end-of-year pile-up in which rom-com Some Like It Hot 情圣 (2016) was the surprise winner. It might have been more successful as a Valentine’s Day release.
Where the equally slick Hot put some life back into the rom-com via sympathetic, naturalistic characters rather than generic cut-outs, Weddings stays with a TV drama-style formula that was once OK but now looks corny. Opening with a scene which finds a divorced couple waking up in bed together, the film spends the next half-hour tracing their backstory – a lightly enjoyable but by-the-numbers college romance that continues into pregnancy, marriage, miscarriage and divorce before a reconciliation after a period of time. As per the film’s title, the plot is a romantic rondo in which the leads make several attempts at a happy marriage, despite the fact (which the audience already knows) that they really love each other. However, the usual misunderstandings along the way are not at all elaborate; it’s the energy of the performers that motors Weddings, not any real invention in Ma’s screenplay.
After a mild twist at the hour mark, the viewer is already ahead of the plot as it slowly works its way to the expected finale. The one major surprise of the whole production is the finale itself – an invigorating song-and-dance number that suddenly comes out of nowhere. As a sheer example of devil-may-care cinema – especially after an hour-or-so of predictable stuff – the ending is not only worth sticking around for but is also unexpectedly touching – another tribute to Ma’s mastery of commercial technique, as well as the likeable cast. (It’s also worth remembering that, back in 2001, Ma made the Shanghai-set street musical Para Para Sakura 芭啦芭啦樱の花.)
TV actor-model Zhang Liang 张亮, hot at the time of shooting thanks to a father-kid reality show and its film spin-offs, is okay in a gawky, inexpressive way, and much is made of his unusual height (1.88m). However, it’s the rest of the leads who animate the movie. As the on/off wife, Dong Jie 董洁 (Happy Times 幸福时光, 2000; The Seal of Love 秋之白华, 2011) moves convincingly through several moods and ages, never too bright, never too dark, though there’s always the feeling that this fine actress is performing way below her capabilities. (Since shooting Weddings, Dong has largely concentrated on TV drama.) As the leads’ best friends – a crucial component of any rom-com – TV/theatre actress Sun Qian 孙茜 is a ball of ballsy comic energy while rubber-faced, half-Chinese comedian-presenter Mike Sui 隋凯 is equally simpatico, in his most extensive film role to date. Without Sun and Sui, Weddings would be stillborn. Among the small number of supporting roles, Zhang’s real-life son, Zhang Yuexuan 张悦轩, a minor celebrity at the time of shooting, is well cast, as is TV actress-model Feng Jing 冯婧 as a femme fatale.
Editing supervised by Hong Kong veteran Zhang Jiahui 张嘉辉 [Cheung Ka-fai] and music direction by his compatriot Jin Peida 金培达 [Peter Kam] keep the whole thing rolling smoothly along, to the point where it’s almost a 90-minute music video. The film was one of the last by Hong Kong d.p. Chen Guoxiong 陈国雄, who drowned on 17 Dec 2014 during the shooting of Skiptrace 绝地逃亡 (2016).
Presented by Beijing Feidian Unlimited Entertainment Cultural Development (CN). Produced by Yuyu Deshui Cultural Media (CN).
Script: Ma Chucheng [Jingle Ma], Li Qinghui, Huang Juanjuan. Photography: Chen Guoxiong. Editing: Zhang Jiahui [Cheung Ka-fai], Mo Yali, San Tingting. Music: Qi Yanfeng. Music direction: Jin Peida [Peter Kam]. Art direction: Wang Yong. Styling: Kong Lingyuan. Sound: Wang Yanfei.
Cast: Zhang Liang (Gu Shi/Suo’er), Dong Jie (Qian Xiaoqiong), Zhang Yuexuan (Xiaotian), Sun Qian (Sima Yueyue), Mike Sui (Wang Yifan), Feng Jing (Tang Yinglei), Han Hong (restaurant manageress), Zhu Yongteng (Qian Xiaoqiong’s suitor), Wang Xiaokun (models’ manager), Xie Yuanpeng (Yang Canlan), Niu Niu (Qian Xiaoqiong’s mother), Wang Jingfu (Qian Xiaoqiong’s father), Tong Liansheng (Gu Shi’s grandfather), Liu Ming (Gu Shi’s grandmother), Li Shangyi (Ling Yu), Yin Xuanyi (Song Xiaohong), Yang Manyu (cheerleader), Yang Shuheng (Xia Feng, classroom fattie), Liu Yanxi (award presenter).
Release: China, 30 Dec 2016.