Never Said Goodbye
China/Taiwan/Hong Kong, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 98 mins.
Director: Lin Yuxian 林育贤.
Standard melodrama, set in Shanghai and Sicily, is refreshed by some good playing and a light touch.
Shanghai, autumn 2013. One evening Bak Jun-ho (Yi Jun-gi), a South Korean living and working in China at an interior-design company, announces he’s going back to Sicily, where he grew up with his elder sister Bak Su-jeon (Yu Seon) and her Italian husband, to study opera. His headstrong partner, Gu Xiaoyu (Zhou Dongyu), whom he met at university in 2010 and now works at the same company, is unhappy; as she doesn’t get on with his sister, Bak Jun-ho goes alone. After three months with no messages, Gu Xiaoyu hears Bak Jun-ho has died in a climbing accident; she goes into a deep depression and is given three months’ leave by her boss, Ma (Xing Jiadong), who attends Bak Jun-ho’s funeral in Italy in Jan 2014. After she floods his flat during one of her depressions, the tenant downstairs, composer Tian Bo (Ruan Jingtian), gives her a talking to; but he later helps her clear out Bak Jun-ho’s things. Finally, one of her work colleagues, Ruby (Rayza), who’d always liked Bak Jun-ho, tells Gu Xiaoyu she only got her job because Bak Jun-ho insisted on it when he was recruited by Ma. Ruby also berates her for not attending the funeral. Gu Xiaoyu starts to blame herself, and her temperament, for Bak Jun-ho’s death. One night, Ganggang, the French bulldog that Bak Jun-ho bought her, runs off; Tian Bo helps her look for it, but in the street Gu Xiaoyu is momentarily distracted and knocked down by a car, ending up briefly in hospital. Ma and her other colleagues subsequently coax her back to work. It was in the summer of 2010 when Bak Jun-ho, while studying in Shanghai, had spotted Gu Xiaoyu, sad over her father’s re-marrying; they later met at the university, where she was studying Korean, and after an aggressive “courtship” they eventually moved in together. But then Bak Jun-ho received some bad news, which he kept secret from Gu Xiaoyu.
A standard youth melodrama, refreshed by some good performances, a light touch in the direction and some South Korean-style plot twists, Never Said Goodbye 谎言西西里 just about justifies itself in terms of painless entertainment. This fourth feature by Taiwan film-maker Lin Yuxian 林育贤 is his most substantial yet in a varied but undistinguished career that’s also encompassed documentaries (Jump! Boys 翻滚吧！孩子, 2004) and producing. Centred on the difficulty of saying goodbye to loved ones, the film is at its best (and occasionally moving) when being simple and unaffected, avoiding generic gushiness. Anyone wanting some depth on the subject is referred elsewhere – most recently, Zinnia Flower 百日告别 (2015) by Taiwan’s Lin Shuyu 林书宇 [Tom Lin].
Lin Yuxian, 42, is best known for youth drama Exit No. 6 6出口 (2007) and the biopic of his gymnast elder brother, Jump Ashin! 翻滚吧！阿信(2011), both starring Peng Yuyan 彭于晏 [Eddie Peng]. Goodbye‘s unlikely plot sounds like one dreamed up in a marketing conference: a romance between a Chinese girl and an Italian-raised South Korean, set in Shanghai and Sicily, and with a cast made up of Mainland actress Zhou Dongyu 周冬雨, Taiwan pin-up Ruan Jingtian 阮经天 and South Korean actor-singer-model Yi Jun-gi 이준기 | 李准基, 34, making his comeback to the big-screen after nine years and some recent TV flops. But Lin has done the cross-cultural thing before: his third feature, Sumimasen, Love 对不起，我爱你 (2008), headlined Japanese actress Tanaka Chie 田中千绘 in a romance set in Taiwan’s Gaoxiong.
In the event, the mix – presided over by Hong Kong’s Guan Jinpeng 关锦鹏 [Stanley Kwan] as producer – is pretty painless, with the formula livened up by shifting the perspective from one character to another at the halfway point, triggering some revelations. The elfin Zhou, 24, who can do bipolar at the drop of a hat, is well cast and manages to make her character bearable instead of impossibly self-centred. Ruan, 34, never the most expressive of actors, is okay in a more grounded role that’s meant to contrast with Zhou’s. And Yi, best known overseas for playing the effeminate clown in King and the Clown 왕의 남자 (2005), is carefully employed by director Li, playing to his strengths rather than weaknesses: crazy as it sounds, a song’n’dance in a student canteen at the halfway point actually works in a fun way, mostly thanks to Zhou’s pixieness but partly thanks to Yi’s performance. And in a simple side-stepping of the language barrier, Yi speaks most of the time to everyone in Korean and they reply in Chinese. What do his teenie fans care, anyway?
Supporting performances are good, especially from Beijing-born Kazakh actress Rayza 热依扎 (aka Riza Alimzhan Риза Алимжан), who gets her big moment in a restaurant scene with Zhou, and from South Korea’s Yu Seon 유선 | 柳善 (The Wig 가발, 2005; Black House 검은집, 2007) as the lead’s characterful elder sister in Italy. TV’s Xing Jiadong 邢佳栋 adds some older ballast as the leads’ understanding boss.
Aside from the time-warping twists in the screenplay – by Mainland writers Hu Rongrong 胡蓉蓉 (TV drama) and Guo Zisheng 郭子圣 (costume murder-mystery series Of Monks and Masters 侠僧探案传奇, 2015) – a benevolent South Korean influence can also be seen in the widescreen photography by Kim Yeong-ho 김영호 | 金荣号 (Haeundae 해운대, 2009; A Wedding Invitation 分手合约, 2013) with its saturated colours fitting both Shanghai’s leafy lanes and Sicily’s touristy bits. Technically, the film is more finely tuned than the average youth melodrama, with the music by Taiwan’s Zheng Weijie 郑伟杰 and China’s Dou Peng 窦鹏 warm but restrained.
The Chinese title literally means “Lies, Sicily”; earlier ones were Begin Again 我前男友的葬礼 and Under the Sicily Sun 西西里艳阳下. Despite all its packaging, in the Mainland the film grossed only a lame RMB18 million.
Presented by Phoenix Legend Films (CN), Beijing C2M Media (CN), 1 Production Film (TW), Emperor Film Production (HK). Produced by Phoenix Legend Films (CN).
Script: Hu Rongrong, Guo Zisheng. Photography: Kim Yeong-ho. Editing: Huang Muheng. Music: Zheng Weijie, Dou Peng. Art direction: Jiang Hanlin (general), Tan Hengping (Italy). Costumes: Shin So-yeon. Sound: Li Danfeng, Zheng Xuzhi. Visual effects: Yu Jae-hwan (Studio 1064). Choreography: Wang Jun. Executive direction: Chen Baojun.
Cast: Yi Jun-gi (Bak Jun-ho), Zhou Dongyu (Gu Xiaoyou), Rayza (Ruby), Xing Jiadong (Ma), Yu Seon (Bak Su-jeon, Bak Jun-ho’s elder sister), Ruan Jingtian (Tian Bo), Tang Wan (female student with glasses), Pu Shuo (Damao), Deng Mei’en (Tuzi/Rabbit), Hou Yu (Lu), Wang Zizi (Chen’s wife), Cheng Hong (Chen), Ren Luomin (Gu Xiaoyou’s father), Wang Min, Lin Tongming (doctors).
Premiere: Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival (World Fantastic Blue), South Korea, 28 Jul 2016.
Release: China, 9 Aug 2016; Taiwan, 28 Oct 2016; Hong Kong, tba.