Beijing Love Story is fun, actually
Starring Chen Sicheng and Carina Lau. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating not available.
A big-screen spinoff of a popular Chinese TV series, this two-hour extravaganza goes the Love, Actually route, with amour—the straight kind, of course—cutting across differences in age, class, and temperament.
The characters are also united by their Beijing settings, which range from spectacularly modern to nicely grubby. Peripatetic style often overshadows plainly preposterous developments, but that’s impressive, especially as a first effort for young writer-director Chen Sicheng. He also stars in the first segment, as a poor schlub and trendy designer who flips for a wholesome beauty (Tong Liya) seemingly beyond his station. (They’re a couple in real life, furthering the Love Story vibe.)
Things begin with our young suitor looking back from a serious accident that may or may not have happened. The movie is best when a kind of magic realism takes over, as in the parallel tale of a working-class high-schooler (Liu Haoran) who connects with a sweet cellist (Nana Ou Yang) just about to leave the country, and he finds himself flying over clogged city traffic.
The musical girl’s father (Tony Leung Ka Fai) also takes a flight, for a Greek-seaside assignation with his longtime mistress. She’s played by Carina Lau, and the camera initially plays hidesies with her famous face. Their sparring is wittily handled but the segment goes on too long—either because two top actors were on hand, or so the crew could spend a couple more days in Greece. (Cinematographer Song Xiaofei works equal magic in settings both picturesque and mundane.)
This slick Story’s main circle—underscored by the frequent appearance of condoms and wedding rings—wends back to the original couple when the designer’s cheating pal (Wang Xuebing) gets caught with nasty pics in his phone, sending his mopy wife (Yu Nan) for a desultory night on the town. There’s also a sentimental diversion with an upright old-timer (Wang Qinxiang) reluctant to connect with anyone his long-suffering matchmaker (Siqin Gaowa) brings him. This doesn’t really connect with the other threads, except as evidence of Chen’s commitment to his anthological theme. The film may be overly ambitious, but it’s always fun, actually.