Meet Miss Anxiety
China, 2014, colour, 1.85:1, 98 mins.
Director: Gwak Jae-yong 곽재용 | 郭在容.
An attractive rom-com cast is ill-served by a poor script and routine direction.
Xiamen, southern China, 2013. Qi Jia (Zhou Xun), 26, hasn’t had her period in six months and thinks she is suffering from premature menopause brought on by her continuing depression over being dumped by the love of her life, Liu Chong (Zhong Hanliang), years earlier. At her university graduation ceremony back in 2009, she had proposed to him in a wedding dress in front of the whole college and had been turned down, with him subsequently going off to Beijing. That same evening, Qi Jia and her best friend Lin Shu’er (Zhang Zilin) had found their classmate Yuan Xiao’ou (Tong Dawei), a shy guy from the northeast, having sex with another classmate, Lao Bai (Guo Shuyao), their roommate from Suzhou. Two months later Yuan Xiao’ou had turned up homeless at the small flat Qi Jia and Lin Shu’er shared, and had been allowed to stay. Now, four years later, Lin Shu’er – who realises Yuan Xiao’ou secretly loves Qi Jia but can’t bring himself to declare his feelings – has moved out and Yuan Xiao’ou still shares the flat with Qi Jia, who hasn’t had a boyfriend since her break-up and also drinks too much. A gynaecologist (Chen Huihong) is no help with Qi Jia’s condition, and just tells Yuan Xiao’ou and Lin Shu’er that she needs “physical and spiritual” help. After one drunken evening, Qi Jia learns that Liu Chong is about to get married. So she, Lin Shu’er and Yuan Xiao’ou decide to drive up to Beijing, buying Qi Jia a bridal dress on the way, and to turn up at Liu Chong’s wedding. But Liu Chong rejects her again. Back in Xiamen, Yuan Xiao’ou looks after Qi Jia while Lin Shu’er is away on a business trip. Eventually, Qi Jia seems to throw off her depression. But then Yuan Xiao’ou tells her he’s been promoted at the furniture-design company he works for and has been offered a transfer to Shanghai.
In his first completed film in seven years, South Korean director Gwak Jae-yong 곽재용 | 郭在容 (My Sassy Girl 엽기적인 그녀, 2001; Windstruck 내 여자친구를 소개합니다, 2004) again tries his hand in the China market with Meet Miss Anxiety 我的早更女友, to mixed results. (In 2012 Gwak had started shooting the China-Japan costume drama Yang Guifei but quit after “creative differences”.) Strongly cast, with Zhou Xun 周迅 and Tong Dawei 佟大为 in the lead roles, Anxiety is a watchable but largely routine rom-com whose script under-employs its assembled talent and never really engages at an emotional level.
Like other South Korean directors working in China (An Byeong-gi 안병기 | 安兵基, Oh Gi-hwan 오기환 | 吴基桓), Gwak has brought some compatriots with him, but without creating a de facto Korean look to the movie. Cinematographers Go Su-bok 고수복 (Jakarta 자카르타, 2000) and Bak Cheon-bok 박천복 (Oh! My God 2 구세주2, 2009) both make the most, in a convincingly local way, of the locations in Xiamen, southern China. The film’s problems are the screenplay – originally written by female Chinese police officer Cao Jinling 曹金玲 – which is awkwardly structured, especially in the first half-hour, and Gwak’s own direction, which doesn’t create a sustained sense of romantic comedy to hold together its often preposterous plotting.
Now almost 40, and with a rice-bowl haircut, the porcelain-skinned Zhou is amazingly believable as a 26-year-old; less believable is her plight, as a woman who hasn’t had a period in six months and believes she’s suffering from premature menopause caused by being ditched by the love of her life four years earlier. (The film’s Chinese title means “My Premature Menopausal Girlfriend”.) Flashing back and forth between the present and her college days, the film is a bumpy ride during its early stages but is just about kept afloat by Zhou’s trademark combination of baby looks and tomboyish independence, and by Tong’s naive charm as her easy-going, ex-classmate who secretly loves her. Only after an unnecessary diversion to Beijing, in which Zhou’s character makes a last-ditch attempt to win back the guy who ditched her, does the movie finally settle down at the halfway point to what the adience has been patiently waiting to see – a rom-com between an odd couple.
Alas, by this point the screenplay doesn’t seem to be able to come up with much original between them, and essentially ditches the whole menopause idea before launching into an extended finale in which Tong’s character is promoted and offered a job transfer to Shanghai. Instead of a burgeoning rom-com relationship, there’s one after another amusing but empty sequence – playing with a cute turtle, getting trapped in a flooded car – that doesn’t advance the plot or add any romantic frissons. Adding to the sense of raggedy construction, there are also signs that some supports have all but disappeared in the final cut – their best friend suddenly turns out to have a boyfriend from nowhere, Tong’s character suddenly has a female boss who likes him – which doesn’t help the film’s smooth running.
Zhou and Tong have an easy chemistry that carries the film, but neither is stretched in any way. Towering over the petite Zhou, six-foot, former Miss World Zhang Zilin 张梓琳 (the girlfriend in He-Man 硬汉2 奉陪到底, 2011) is also impressive in the BFF role, snarkily reminding Tong’s character not to mess up her best friend’s life any more than it already is. In what is largely a three-hander, other parts are tiny, including Hong Kong’s Zhong Hanliang 钟汉良 [Wallace Chung] looking rather out of place as the first love and Taiwan popster Guo Shuyao 郭书瑶 in a squeaky cameo as a college roommate. Gwak’s direction is functional, with some use of split-screen and other visual effects; but it develops no head of emotional steam for the characters and has an annoying habit of using circular tracking shots for want of anything more original.
Presented by New Classics Media (CN), Shenzhen Tencent Video Culture Communication (CN), Beijing Sankuai Technology (CN). Produced by Futuristic Picture Media (CN).
Script: Bao Qing, Yan Suqian. Original script: Cao Jinling. Photography: Go Su-bok, Bak Cheon-bok. Editing: Hu Shuzhen, Yan Tingting. Music: Choi Seung-hyeon, Guo Yanjin, Gim Na-rim, Liu Jia, You Mingxun. Music direction: Choi Seung-hyeon. Theme song: Choi Seung-hyeon. Lyrics: Jiang Linfeng. Vocal: Zhang Jingying. Art direction: Liu Jing. Costumes: Zuo Jing. Styling: Li Hui. Sound: Zhao Nan, Yang Jiang. Visual effects: Ji Junyang (Minimax Design), Jang Hyeon-mun (4th Creative Party), Xu Jian, Shi Wen (More Visual Production).
Cast: Zhou Xun (Qi Jia), Tong Dawei (Yuan Xiao’ou), Zhong Hanliang [Wallace Chung] (Liu Chong), Zhang Zilin (Lin Shu’er), Guo Shuyao (Lao Bai), Chen Huihong (gynaecologist), Li Jing (Yuan Xiao’ou’s boss), Bai Ke (Lin Shu’er’s boyfriend), Wu Bi (tramp), Mo Xi’er (Rongrong), Yooyo [Keong Ming Yap] (gay gynaecological patient), Hai Bo (headmaster), Qing Wen (Qi Jia’s cousin), Yan Pengtao (courier), Douglas (priest), Zhan Jinhao (attendant), Chen Aobin (tattooed man).
Release: China, 12 Dec 2014.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 25 Jan 2015.)