China, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 93 mins.
Director: Yin Lichuan 尹丽川.
Strained light comedy set in Beijing’s fashion/media world.
Beijing, the present day. Three years after being hired as a shy university graduate by Alex (Tan Yonglin), editor-in-chief of leading fashion magazine Celebrity 名尚, Zhou Xiaohui (Zhou Yumin) has become associate editor, taken on the English name Patrick, and turned into an arrogant, pretentious young control freak. However, after a minor gaffe that threatens the company’s future IPO, he’s sacked by Alex. Proclaiming he’ll set up a rival publication, Zhou Xiaohui is joined by only two of his staff, office dogsbodies Fatty (Tong Lei) and Yinghong (Xu Ruoxuan), an editorial assistant he’d recently promoted. He persuades college friend Wu Yang (Qiao Renliang), the son of a wealthy businessman, to come in as an investor and the four set up a modest backstreet office, hiring wedding photographer Wang (Wang Taili) and middle-aged traditional artist Zheng (Shu Yaoxuan), and calling their magazine Modern 摩登. The first issue flops, and Zhou Xiaohui is urged to try to be different rather than remain obsessed with taking on Alex and Celebrity. Inspired by Yinghong’s appearance, Zhou Xiaohui has the idea of going for a more natural fashion look and pitches Qi Xi (Yu Nan), a legendary singer making a comeback concert, to be their next cover model. Qi Xi, who dislikes Celebrity, agrees. But at the last moment, she allows her manager to change her mind, with disastrous consequences for Zhou Xiaohui and his team.
The intriguing career of writer/poet-turned-filmmaker Yin Lichuan 尹丽川, 38, takes another left-hand swerve with Sleepless Fashion 与时尚同居, a conscious attempt to make a mainstream movie after her impressive but little-seen debut The Park 公园 (2007) and her over-arty festival film Knitting 牛郎织女 (2008). The result is not especially bad but it’s also not especially good or original: a light comedy set in the well-ploughed field of the Beijing fashion scene (Love in Cosmo 摇摆de婚约, 2010; Color Me Love 爱出色, 2010; What Women Want 我知女人心, 2011), with a routine message about staying true to your friends and your roots, all reasonably slickly packaged.
The cast blends names from Taiwan – F4 boybander Zhou Yumin 周渝民 [Vic Chou], actress Xu Ruoxuan 徐若瑄 [Vivian Hsu] – and Hong Kong – veteran Tan Yonglin 谭咏麟 [Alan Tam], unrecognisable behind sunglasses, plus character actor Lin Xue 林雪 [Lam Suet] – into a solid base of Mainlanders. Among the latter, there’s actress Yu Nan 余男 in a weird bit part as a singing diva making her comeback; the double act Chopstick Brothers 筷子兄弟 – aka Wang Taili 王太利 and Xiao Yang 肖央 – in separate roles; plus directors Zhang Yibai 张一白 and Gao Qunshu 高群书 popping up in lightning cameos. With its plot about a small group of people trying to start their own fashion magazine against heavy odds, Sleepless sounds on paper like a recipe for fun entertainment.
Fun, however, is what is signally missing in a film that never establishes a thoroughgoing tone or character. The feeling of strained humour isn’t helped by Zhou’s flat, unlikeable playing of a role that’s not especially sympathetic in the first place. And though there are some engaging moments thanks to individual actors – especially Xu as a devoted supporter of Zhou’s ambitious editor, and Wang as a simple wedding photographer – there’s a coldness about the film, a lack of a genuine warmth and humour, that transmits itself to the viewer. A revelation about Xu’s character should be shocking but merely seems contrived; an improvised song-and-dance near the end should be joyful but never really gets off the ground.
The one surprise is that the movie never turns into a rom-com, cutting off the romantic element between Zhou and Xu’s characters just as it is about to start. That apart, however, you can almost hear the writers mechanically ticking the boxes in the scripting rulebook as they go along.
The Chinese title literally means “Living with Fashion”.
Presented by Beijing Starlight International Media (CN), Beijing Starlight Up Media (CN).
Script: Yin Lichuan, Qian Mi, Li Guofeng. Photography: Li Yixu. Editing: Yang Hongyu. Music direction: Kikuchi Keisuke. Art direction: Lou Pan. Costume design: Xu Jianshu [Lawrence Xu]. Sound: Li Tao.
Cast: Zhou Yumin [Vic Zhou] (Zhou Xiaohui/Patrick), Xu Ruoxuan [Vivian Hsu] (Yinghong), Tan Yonglin [Alan Tam] (Alex), Yu Nan (Qi Xi), Qiao Renliang (Wu Yang), Chun Xiao (Celine), Wang Taili (Wang, photographer), Tong Lei (Xiaopang/Fatty/William), Shu Yaoxuan (Zheng, art director), Lin Xue [Lam Suet] (Qin Feng), Fang Ran (Shasha, Wu Yang’s girlfriend), Xiao Yang (Steve), Yan Su (Dong, work colleague), Yuan Tingting (He, work colleague), Guan Ming (Yang, work colleague), Hong Zongyi (Wu Yang’s father), Bai Hongyan (Wu Yang’s mother), Song Weihong (magazine executive), Liu Xin (female interviewee), Ge Yangxi (MC), Qu Jingjing (marketing manager), Wen Dong (Celebrity receptionist), Wang Xianfeng (driver), Xue Meng (fashion-show receptionist), Zhang Yibai (appreciative parent), Gao Qunshu (Women’s Friend magazine rep).
Release: China, 21 Oct 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 8 Dec 2011.)