Come Across Love
China/UK, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 89 mins.
Director: Chen Zhuo 陈卓.
US-set odd-couple road movie has engaging lead chemistry, with Zhang Yuqi in her best role for years.
A city in China, the present day. Fan Xiaoxian (Zhang Liang), CEO of mobile-phone company Mengzhu Technology, the best in China, is all set to go public and seek a listing on NASDAQ, after 15 years of building his firm into the best in China. Divorced, with a young son (Dan Dan), he channels everything into his career and becoming an international success. But at a splashy press conference to launch the latest model of his X-Fang phone, he collapses and is diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia (lack of physical co-ordination). Still in hospital after a week, he misses the 15 July date necessary to apply for a NASDAQ listing. A Chinese doctor (Hou Tongjiang) confirms the diagnosis and recommends a doctor in the US, Anderson Brown. To keep the trip secret so as not to panic investors, Fan Xiaoxian’s assistant (Leng Zhongyi) books him on a self-drive holiday with a car club. At the airport Fan Xiaoxian discovers the group’s leader is Li Xin (Zhang Yuqi), a childhood friend who was an incorrigible tomboy and regularly used to beat him up. They haven’t met for 20 years. She’s now 30, glamorous, and customer service manager at Huihuang Car Club, but still unmarried as she’s very choosy. Arriving in San Francisco they find they’ve been twinned in the same car and have adjacent hotel rooms. She’s actually using the trip to audition some potential husbands; while she’s out, Fan Xiaoxian steals the car keys to visit the doctor but ends up crashing the vehicle. Fan Xiaoxian accompanies Li Xin to her next appointment, with a wealthy businessman (Gao Jie) who’s had his sperm frozen for 20 years and is now looking for a wife to bear his children. After the two help save him when he has a heart attack on his yacht, he loans them a car in gratitude. It’s the start of a long odyssey for both Fan Xiaoxian and Li Xin.
After a decade-long career that’s had its fair share of highs, lows and blank spaces, Shandong-born actress Zhang Yuqi 张雨绮, 31, gets her best part in five years in odd-couple road movie-cum-rom-com Come Across Love 不期而遇. Pairing her with lanky, hatchet-faced actor-model Zhang Liang 张亮, 35, the largely US-set movie starts with a lively chunk of animation introducing the two protagonists and then zips along for 90 minutes with plenty of incident and engaging on-screen chemistry between the two leads. Mainland audiences were unimpressed (a feeble RMB7 million) but the film, produced on the creative side by Zhang Meng 张猛 (The Piano in a Factory 钢的琴, 2010; Everybody’s Fine 一切都好, 2016), is a confident step into the mainstream by Hunan-born writer-director Chen Zhuo 陈卓, 39, following his arty indie debut Song of Silence 杨梅洲 (2012), standard festival fare centred on a deaf teenage girl in the provinces.
Since starting out as a protegee of Hong Kong actor-director Zhou Xingchi 周星驰 [Stephen Chow] (CJ7 长江7号, 2008), Zhang has had difficulty finding her own niche, not helped by a squeaky voice that’s never seemed to match her richly sensual looks. After playing all kinds of roles in all kinds of genres, she finally landed the plum female part in high-profile period epic White Deer Plain 白鹿原 (2012), though the film’s so-so box-office and critical reception led to leading roles in only the okay rom-com The Honey Enemy 情敌蜜月 (2015) and trashy English-language pulp Lost in the Pacific 蒸发太平洋 (2016). In Love her voice is no longer grating, and she finally looks comfortable in a punchy role that combines her under-used gift for romantic comedy with her typically game, open attitude.
The screenplay by Shanghai writer Chen Ying 陈莹, aka You Er 右耳, who worked on the CNY comedy Emperor’s Holidays 爸爸的假期 (2015), is just one of those things, basically manoeuvring two ambitious Gen-80ers – who are good at everything except relationships – on a road trip together along the US’ west coast. The twist is that they knew each other as kids, when he made fun of her and she beat him up, but haven’t met for 20 years. He’s secretly gone to the US to cure an illness that’s holding up his company’s IPO, while she’s secretly gone there to find a husband. The further twist is that they both end up stuck with each other: he can’t speak English but she can, and she’s not having any luck with her blind dates.
The ending is visible at thirty paces but it’s fun getting there, with the plotting just an excuse for moving the characters from one place to another and into different clothes as their relationship develops. The film conveniently ignores the man’s illness (ataxia) once it’s of no use to the plot, but by then the road movie is running on pure chemistry. Balancing Zhang Yuqi’s outgoing performance, Zhang Liang – who’s also in Zhang Meng’s so-far-unreleased black comedy Guns and Kidneys 枪炮腰花 – gets plenty of mileage out of his stony-faced approach, as he did in Three Weddings 爸爸的3次婚礼 (2016) opposite actress Dong Jie 董洁. Other parts are just passing bits, inclding Taiwan veteran Gao Jie 高捷 [Jack Kao] as an ageing businessman who’s kept his sperm frozen for 20 years and Mainland-born beefcake Lin Ludi 林路迪 (Power Rangers, 2017) as a Californian beach bum.
D.p. Shi Yue 史岳, who shot Chen’s more downbeat and realistic Song of Silence, provides a good-looking frame without glamourising the US locations, and editing by Hong Kong’s Chen Zhiwei 陈志伟 [Andy Chan] is tight. The Chinese title is a phrase meaning an unexpected meeting.
Presented by TIK Films (Beijing) (CN), DreamMax Media (CN), Lions Gate China (UK) (UK). Produced by TIK Films (Beijing) (CN).
Script: Chen Ying, Chen Zhuo. Photography: Shi Yue. Editing: Chen Zhiwei [Andy Chan], Qian Lingling. Music: Chao Luomeng. Song production: Qiu Yan. Production design: Zhang Lili. Art direction: Zhang Li’na. Styling: Guan Mulin. Sound: Liu Yang. Action: Will Leong (US). Special effects: Li Tao. Visual effects: Feng Yulan (Beijing Shengguang Image Culture Media). Animation: Mou Zhengyang.
Cast: Zhang Yuqi (Li Xin), Zhang Liang (Fan Xiaoxian), Leng Zhongyi (Xiaobaimeng, Fan Xiaoxian’s assistant), Li Qi’en (Fang, Li Xin’s best friend), Gao Jie [Jack Kao] (He Yimin), Lin Ludi (David), Hou Tongjiang (Hu, Chinese doctor), Dandan (Fan Xiaopang), Zhang Qingyi (Liu Jiajia, Fan Xiaopang’s girlfriend), Wang Chaobei (male supervisor), Hou Yidi (Fanfan, interpreter), Yang Manqin (Song), Li Haibin (Li Gong), Wang Yuan, Liu Mengxi, Pan Hao, Guo Xingchen, Luo Shan, Cao Yiwen, Ru Changhu, Shang Bojun (car-club members), Arrow Mouhn (Thomas, bellboy), Huang Yishan (Sam), Ren Shuo (male date), Yang Ziqi (young Li Xin), Yan Bosen (young Fan Xiaoxian), Amanda Serra (Mrs. Brown), Tony Ketcham (neighbour), Vivian Ahn (Lisa, bride), Demetrius Butler (Anderson Brown’s stepson), Sky Moore (Anderson Brown, doctor).
Release: China, 19 May 2017; UK, tba.