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Desires of the Heart
Desires of the Heart     Desires of the Heart

(left) Fan Bing-Bing and Ge You, and (right) Yuen Qiu and Guo Tao in Desires of the Heart.
Chinese: 桃花運  
Year: 2008
Director: Ma Liwen  
Writer: Ma Liwen, He Di
Cast: Vivian Wu Kwan-Mui, Yuen Qiu, Lulu Li Xiao-Lu, Song Jia, Mei Ting, Ge You, Guo Tao, Duan Yihong, Li Chen, Geng Le, Cong Shan, Chen Jin, Liu Zhenyun, Li Na, Fan Bing-Bing
The Skinny: A female-centered comedy-drama, Desires of the Heart possesses well-observed characters hidden beneath its deceptively lightweight exterior. The resolutions to each of the love stories don't completely satisfy, and director Ma Liwen's technique is a bit clumsy. Nevertheless, this is worthwhile commercial stuff and much better than it initially seems.
   
Review
by Kozo:

Originally conceived as a vehicle for China's top actor Ge You, Desires of the Heart was reworked by director Ma Liwen (You and Me) into an ensemble piece following the lead actor's departure. Instead of the story of one man and his relationships, the film is now about five women and their attempts, successes and failures with love in China's rapidly-changing metropolitan landscape, earmarked by the large offices, grand structures and general finery one associates with the nation's increasingly well-to-do professionals. Sporting an unlikely hairpiece, Ge You now takes on a supporting role as the too-good-to-be-true suitor of middle-aged divorcee Ye Shengying (Vivian Wu of The Soong Sisters). She's struggling with age and a louse of an ex-husband, but the attentions of a kind, patient widower (Ge) renew her spirit and perhaps her confidence in life.

Confidence is not an issue for Xiaomei (Lulu Li of Xiu Xiu, The Sent Down Girl), a successful career woman who takes a sabbatical to accept an entry-level position in another company, all in order to woo the very eligible - and very rich - CEO (Duan Yihong). Meanwhile, past-her-prime seamstress Gao Yajuan (Kung Fu Hustle's Yuen Qiu) endures a divorce and soon meets a righteous younger man (Guo Tao of Crazy Stone) who also appears far too good to be true. Song Jia (Curiosity Kills the Cat) plays an heiress who finds love with a poor young chef (Li Chen), but he knows nothing of her true net worth. Finally, the pretty and passionate Zhang Ting (Mei Ting) has surprisingly never had a boyfriend, but that changes when she strikes sparks with the hunky Geng Le (Beijing Rocks). However, her lack of experience - especially with intimacy - may throw a wrench in the works.

With five stories to juggle, the film's focus is understandably scattershot. The actresses trade screentime frequently, with some disappearing for long periods of time. Also, the switching voiceover sometimes renders the proceedings somewhat dense. However, Ma keeps things funny and relatively fast, and manages to make each character's story click. The actresses deserve much of the credit, with each giving her character a strong and believable personality. Especially good are Vivian Wu and Zhang Ting, and Ge You makes an impression in his supporting role. Not all the stories end satisfactorily; the film is less about resolutions than it is about the situations, and possesses well-observed emotions if not a complete narrative. Some of the women find an idealized outcome to their search for love, while others may find potential disappointment. Like life, there are myriad possibilities.

Desires of the Heart does stumble occasionally; two of the stories end in too similar a manner, and Ma's filmmaking technique lacks polish. However, the film's uneven structure sometimes works to its benefit. The lack of absolute closure allows the focus to remain on the women and their emotions rather than some overriding narrative need, and Ma's comic touch makes the experience that much more entertaining. Ultimately, Desires of the Heart is much better than its poster and DVD cover would imply. The artwork is cluttered with whimsical graphics and misleadingly spotlights Fan Bing-Bing (who has very limited screentime in the film), making it seem like a crowded throwaway comedy. However, in a surprise the film possesses well-observed characters and situations, and the emotions presented feel genuine. Ma Liwen gives Desires of the Heart a personality and affection that make the film greater than one may initially expect, which is more than enough to make it worthwhile. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2009)

   
Availability:

DVD (China)
Region 0 PAL
Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

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image credit: Udine Far East Film Festival
   
 
 
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