Love Is a Broadway Hit
China/Hong Kong, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 102 mins.
Director: Li Juyuan 李巨源 [Peter Lee].
Blandly written, New York-set rom-com fails to ignite, despite a mostly hard-working cast.
New York, Oct 2016. Struggling actors Bai Qi (Wang Likun) and Song Weidong (Gao Yixiang) meet by chance when extras on a film, and later when they separately audition for Mu Lan, the Musical. They become friends, but then Bai Qi discovers Song Weidong also auditioned for the lead role, which is both male and female in the show so can be played by either an actor or actress. Both learn they are front-runners for the part; the final decision will be taken after more auditions. Bai Qi has already overstayed her US visa and sees the Mulan job as her last chance to make it; she tries every ruse to cosy up to the director (Kenan Heppe) and producer (Johanna Putnam) and undermine Song Weidong. At present, Bai Qi is camping out in the flat of her friend Fang Hong (Li Yuan), a dress designer who’s behind on her rent to her landlady Mrs. Yu and is in a running war with Mrs. Yu’s son, womanising mobile-canteen owner Tony (Wang Chuanju), who is pressuring her for the money inbetween trying to date her. Unknown to Bai Qi, Song Weidong rents a tiny space in Mrs. Yu’s laundry room. The pair finally try to settle their differences through a rooftop drink but Bai Qi, who’s studied all her life to be a singer-dancer, is horrified when Song Weidong says he used to be an investment banker. That night she gets him drunk and puts him on a coach to Boston.
The ingredients all seem to be present and correct but the souffle refuses to rise in Love Is a Broadway Hit 情遇曼哈顿, a wannabe fluffy rom-com centred on an odd couple – played by Mainland actress Wang Likun 王丽坤 and Taiwan-born actor Gao Yixiang 高以翔 – in New York’s musical theatre world. Exactly the same problem afflicted My Fair Gentleman 窈窕绅士 (2009), the previous feature by writer-director Li Juyuan 李巨源 [Peter Lee]: a wannabe classy rom-com, also produced by Hong Kong’s Zhang Jiazhen 张家振 [Terence Chang], it failed to fly despite a good cast including Mainland star Sun Honglei 孙红雷 and Taiwan’s Lin Xilei 林熙蕾 [Kelly Lin]. Technically slicker than Gentleman, Love is a good-looking timewaster for a long-haul flight but is neither as fluffy, romantic nor as comic as it thinks it is, or should be. It died in the Mainland, with a mere RMB13 million.
Hong Kong-born, US-raised Li, 54, has had various jobs in the industry since studying film in New York, ranging from assistant to several Hong Kong directors, an associate to director Li An 李安 [Ang Lee], and presenting Taiwan TV shows. He’s commonly credited with co-directing the Taiwan mockumentary The Candidate 为人民服务 (1998), a witty send-up of campaign politics – though his name is nowhere on the film, which is credited to Taiwan writer-director-actor Feng Guangyuan 冯光远. The problem with Love is not so much the phoney setting – an idealised, multi-culti New York full of colourful but nice people – or the hand-me-down, borderline ridiculous plot whose every scene has a familiar feel from other, better films. Both could have worked with a really witty, well-constructed screenplay and a more heavyweight cast.
As it is, onetime ballet student Wang, 32, has the physical skills for her role, as well as the looks and perky attitude, but can’t bring anything more to the part than is written in the script. Though she’s often been the best thing as a supporting actress in variable movies (EX-Files 前任攻略, 2014; Somewhere Only We Know 有一个地方只有我们知道, 2015), the mainly TV actress still can’t carry an iffy film in the leading role. As her frenemy partner, Taiwan-born, Vancouver-raised actor-model Gao, 33, who played the wooden photographer in rom-com Say Yes! 101次求婚 (2013), has a smoothly handsome image and way better English than Wang, but not much more. A parallel odd-couple relationship fails to ignite until the very last moment, with curiously flat playing by actress Li Yuan 李媛 (the quarrelsome fellow-patient in Go Away Mr Tumor! 滚蛋吧！肿瘤君, 2015; the ballsy fiancee in Super Express 超级快递, 2016) and an over-desperate performance by actor-presenter Wang Chuanjun 王传君 (the loony fortune teller in Ex-Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back 前任2 备胎反击战, 2015).
Technical credits are generally fine, with clean, sharp photography by Derek McKane (The Last New Yorker, 2007; Five Dances, 2013). The musical numbers for Mulan are just so-so, and the choreography likewise. The film’s Chinese title roughly means “Love in Manhattan”.
Presented by Wanda Pictures (CN), PCCW Media (HK), Lucida Entertainment (CN). Produced by Mannix Pictures (CN), Wanda Pictures (CN), Lucida Entertainment (CN), Mirage (CN), STG Film & TV (CN), Sova Entertainment (CN).
Script: Li Juyuan [Peter Lee]. Photography: Derek McKane. Editing: Liu Yuexing. Music: Gao Shizhang, Bennett Pan. Song music: Gao Shizhang. Lyrics: Li Yuren. Vocals: Hu Lin, Gao Shizhang. Art direction: Adam Pruitt. Costume design: Hannah Kittell. Styling: Lai Xuanwu. Sound: Dennis Rainaldi, Xiao Jing. Choreography: A.C. Ciulla.
Cast: Wang Likun (Bai Qi), Gao Yixiang (Song Weidong), Li Yuan (Fang Hong), Wang Chuanjun (Tony Yu), Kenan Heppe (Josh), Naren Weiss (Pi), Johanna Putnam (Carol), Hana Kim (Cynthia Kim), T.J. Ogron (Jerry), Brenda Crawley (cleaning lady), Cameron Bartell (Jerry’s roommate), Todd Alan Little (second-unit director), Sheng Bingu (Mei, Tony Yu’s employee), Anna-Lee Wright (Bridgette Wu), Lauren Downie (Jamie), Joshua Pangboon (funfair security guard), Branca Machado (chocolate-shop employee), Kellie Jean Hoagland (Michelle), Mark Andrew Garner (Mark), Rodwin Avery (phone thief), Joyce Luo (young Bai Qi), Nellie Kim (Bai Qi’s mother), Denis Ooi (Claude, prince), Yao Wei (Roger, doctor), Shirley Huang (Fang Hong’s mother), Nick Fang (Fang Hong’s younger brother).
Release: China, 13 Oct 2017; Hong Kong, tba.