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.