Thursday, June 9, 2011

Johnnie To's Don't Go Breaking My Heart Review

After a long break Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai return to the romantic comedy genre with Don't go breaking my heart, a movie specifically tailored to the mainland Chinese market. As you would expect, the filmmaking is of a very high standard but the movie suffers comparison to earlier Milkyway rom-coms, it lacks Needing you's fantastic chemistry and Hong Kongness and Love on a diet's more straight forward humour, to name two.


The very basic plot sees Zixin (Gao Yuan Yuan), after suffering a horrible break up, being courted by two wealthy and handsome men, Cheung Shen Ran (Louis Koo) a weak willed playboy and Fang QiHong (Daniel Wu) a drunk, disillusioned architect. While they may not sound eligible from that description, the film is a female wish fulfilment fantasy, so Cheung Shen Ran is the magnetic bad boy many women cannot help but fall for and QiHong becomes the almost nauseatingly perfect man. The question is after having her heart broken previously who will she choose?


Firstly Don't go breaking my heart looks fantastic, To and Cheng Siu Keung yet again make Hong Kong look incredible, this time instead of using the kind of shots and locations of his crime films, here we see an altogether sleeker and shinier Hong Kong that looks every bit the amazingly expensive urban playground these characters would frequent. Another huge plus for the film is how visual the storytelling is, with plot points presented using filmmaking tricks and techniques rather than dialogue. This sets the Milkyway rom-coms apart from other examples of the genre where exposition often bogs the movie down so far it cannot recover.


Unfortunately the film does have a couple of significant problems. Firstly it's far too long at just short of two hours, there just isn't enough in the screenplay to warrant that kind of running time, again maybe this is something for the mainland market? as it's unusual for a To film. Secondly, the film's materialistic veneer is far too thick, at times the movie has a Sex and the city vibe to it which at least to my eyes is VERY unwelcome.


Gao Yuan Yuan makes an appealingly cute lead, bringing life to a pretty bland character, Daniel Wu is fine but spends much of his onscreen time being upstaged by a comical frog and is saddled with a character who is just too perfect to be remotely real. Louis Koo is perfect for his role as the wealthy and charismatic playboy (Not too much of a stretch for him I guess) who is too honest for his own good. It is testament to the quality of the writing and Koo's performance that a character who should be unlikeable actually isn't and manages to keep you guessing right up to the end of the film as to which way Zixin will go. Lam Suet adds support playing another of his buffoon roles and as usual is very welcome, what would a Milkyway film be without him?


I'm left with mixed feelings on Don't go breaking my heart, on the one hand the film's targeting of the mainland has many negative effects on the film, in addition it just doesn't have enough humour. On the other hand, the filmmaking is sumptuous, the gimmicks are cute and cleverly intergrated into the narrative and the leads are all very watchable. Ultimately Don't go breaking my heart is a really enjoyable movie but had it been 90 minutes and had fewer concessions to the mainland it could have been great rather than just good.

11 comments:

Wes M said...

Good stuff M, this one is new to me so thanks, I'll keep an eye out. It actually sounds interesting - I've been watching so many horror films lately something like this would provide a nice antidote to all the death n' destruction...

Dr. Lamb said...

Been meaning to watch this, but in all honesty, a romantic comedy by To and Fai doesn't really get me excited. It almost looks too polished and seems as if it's trying too hard to pander to the main land audience. Look what happen with Andrew Lau's latest China friendly film.

Anyhow, I'm going to give this a watch and probably do a brief write up on it.

Thanks for the review

Mark Ayala said...

Agree with Dr. Lamb. Something about a Fai & To film romantic comedy doesn't get my attention. I understand To started with comedies, but I've heard they're nowhere near as fantastic his Milkyway crime films.

Then again, this film is guaranteed to make money on the cute concept alone

Lam Suet would make this a must see and the logo is pretty damned cute.

Anonymous said...

I prefer To's more gritty films more. To said himself that he wasn't particularly interested in romantic comedies, but he is doing it for commerical reasons (to pander to the Mainland).

To just dosen't suit this kind of fluffy film. He can pull off comedies, but not this kind of comedy. What a contrast with To's better works, such as the dark and violent (but brilliant) "Triad Election" and it's sequel "Election 2". Those two films are one his best works. He has the ability to really engage the audience with an otherwise overused and tired genre (triad flick) and spin a thrilling yarn out of it.

A hero never dies said...

Wes, yeah you may find it a nice change of pace in-between all of those nasties.

A hero never dies said...

Dr Lamb, do you not rate their other rom-come? If so I doubt you will get anything out of this. To me if anyone can make interesting films in this genre then it's To and Wai!

A hero never dies said...

Mark, don't get me wrong I would love for To and Wai to keep making the crime flicks, unfortunately they don't make the money like this kind of movie does and they usually bring something interesting to the table whatever they make.

A hero never dies said...

Anon, I think he does pull it off pretty much, the only faults really are it's too long and too mainland centric. I agree completely about the Election movies, the triad ceremony in the first is one of my favourite movie scenes. I'm quite happy to support To's diversions into money making genres as long as they are at least interesting, so he can continue to make the great films he is capable of!

Anonymous said...

Well I suppose it'a question of personal preferences. I don't think HK films can pull off romantic comedies or dramas as well as the Koreans can. I haven't seen any HK romantic flick on the level of "My Sassy Girlfriend", for example.

About the triad election movies. I recalled hearing about the Triad election flicks. My initial reaction was "yet another triad film"? Truth be told, apart from classics like "A Better Tomorrow", "A hero never dies" or the "Infernal Affairs" trilogy, the majority of triad flicks are pretty subpar, quality-wise. The first "Young and Dangerous" was passable entertainment, but the sequels were so-so at best, aimed only at the glorification of the triads.

But then when I actually sat down to watch To's "Triad Election". It was a breath of fresh air. No glorification of the triads. No unrealistic "heroic" triads. it present it as an ugly power struggle, where all the so-called triad code (like the Mafia's omerta) are tools to be used or broken for power. I really liked that angle.

YTSL said...

Hi "A Hero Never Dies" --

Too bad re your having mixed feelings re the film. As you say, you definitely weren't the target audience.

I'm not usually a fan of Mainland audience-targeted Hong Kong movies -- but I thought this one was better than most. Part of the reason is that I *am* female. Another part is that the Mainland audience targeted by this movie is the urban section that I feel more relation to than the more rural sections.

In addition, I do think it a well made film -- and definitely made with more care than, say, "Linger" (so bad I came away thinking Johnnie To must have only lent his name to that film) and the too tired feeling "Yesterday Once More". So, even while it is not up to the standard of "Needing You..." (which I honestly love even more than "My Sassy Girl"), it was good enough for me.

A hero never dies said...

Hi YTSL

I completely agree re Linger, Yesterday once more and Needing you, maybe my review is a little harsh sounding as I did enjoy it quite a bit and not just for how well made it is. I just thought it could have been really good! I'm pleased you enjoyed it so much!

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