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Basic Love
Basic Love     Basic Love

(left) Elanne Kong and Rex Ho, and (right) Janice Man and Kong in Basic Love.
Chinese: 愛情故事  
Year: 2008
Director: Oxide Pang Chun
Writer: Oxide Pang Chun

Elanne Kong Yeuk-Lam, Janice Man, Rex Ho Chun-Wai, Jones Xu, Cheng Pei-Pei, Brian Li Pak-Woon, James Ho Seung-Him, Gary Chiu Cheung-Sing, Shi Lan, Yumi Wan, Pakho Chau Pak-Ho

  The Skinny:

For pure love fluff aimed at pre-teen girls, Basic Love suffices. However, by every other measure the film lacks, and even occasionally bores. Featuring Janice Man's most appealing performance and some odd directorial choices from Oxide Pang.

by Kozo:
Girl loves boy. Boy loves girl. Girl’s best friend also loves boy, but boy doesn’t return her feelings. Girl is also dying of leukemia, and the filmmakers own stock in a tissue company. Yes, this is a Hong Kong terminal illness tearjerker. There are two ways to look at Basic Love. First, there’s the cynical way - as the latest in a long line of movies milking the terminal illness cliché. Judged that way, Basic Love is unremarkable and disposable, only earning notice because it features new Hong Kong stars and is directed by Oxide Pang. The former Eye director shows some decent effort in this teen tearjerker, going for heartfelt storytelling and the trademark Pang visual style. Basic Love sometimes looks like a horror movie, though it really isn't one. Cynical audiences, however, may still classify it as such.

The second way of looking at Basic Love is in a pure, empirical manner. That is, if we ignore the existence of the zillion other films - Hong Kong and otherwise - that possess the same plot device, does Basic Love work as a singular, pure film experience? Do the characters, story, direction and emotions succeed in and of themselves? The answer: partly. The actors are either unremarkable or surprisingly decent, and the emotions and situations are given solid, loving focus thanks to Oxide Pang's unflinchingly earnest direction. The emotions are predictable and also inherently touching. You’d be an unfeeling, cynical snob if you didn’t feel something for the dying girl and her lonely plight. Basically, you must be touched, otherwise you’re an inhuman weasel. Audience sympathy is, by definition, guaranteed.

After that, however, things get dicier, because Basic Love has some very big flaws. The film only superficially fulfills its genre, and never really digs deeper. The young characters hold conversations that are realistic but banal, and not enough happens beneath the surface to prevent possible boredom. Also, the characters' lives lack depth. We know that one person has a terminal illness, and we know there's a love triangle going on, and we're even introduced to a few related background characters. Still, little richness or reality is created outside of the weepy pure love shenanigans, meaning you can either get with the tearjerker clichés or suffer the consequences. Pre-teens or people who've seen only five films may find all this touching, but on the most basic narrative level, the film lacks.

What buoys the film is its fresh casting, though oddly it's star Elanne Kong who is the least memorable. The role of leukemia-suffering high school girl Ling is not far removed from her previous screen appearances, and the character possesses none of the life or depth given to, say, Anita Yuen in C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri. Rex Ho of boy band Square plays Rex, the cuddly male member of the love triangle, who’s stuck between his love for Ling and the admiration of female pal June (Janice Man of La Lingerie). Ho doesn’t exactly impress in his debut, but he’s likable and unobtrusive. In a surprise, it’s Janice Man who makes the biggest impact. Maybe it’s the plain hairdo or that she plays against her high-maintenance Hong Kong girl image, but Man strikes the right note as the silent, loyal and suffering June. The three are refreshing leads in that they’re not the usual Hong Kong faces – and hey, they’re certainly photogenic. Time will tell if they achieve more, but for now their target audience will be served.

And who is their target audience? Probably pre-teen girls who would like some drama in their adolescent lives. Besides its obvious flaws, Basic Love’s biggest problem is that its target audience is exceptionally limited. If you’re male, over thirty, and thought Ip Man ruled, then obviously this movie is not for you. If you’re male, twenty-two, have seen numerous romantic comedies, and thought If You Are The One was more accomplished than your typical romcom, then Basic Love is not for you either. Hell, if you’re female, eighteen and think In the Mood For Love is sublime then Basic Love will still look bad. This movie is a product, pure and simple, and was made to push some Universe Entertainment idols (besides the leads, Rex’s bandmates from Square make an appearance), rake in a few ancillary bucks and check another film off of Oxide Pang’s multi-picture deal with the company. As a product, it serves its purpose well, but as an actual film, one would hope for more.

Still, Basic Love looks unique for a film of its genre. Besides the Pang-trademark ugly-beautiful color palette, the filmmakers opt for selective and uneven focus, which makes each frame look like faux art, or perhaps like your glasses need cleaning. The reason for the odd look? Maybe young love is murky and hard to grasp, just like Pang's nifty visuals! Cynically, however, it's just a way to make something look better than it actually is - like the film, which isn’t innovative or special enough to be noteworthy. If you've seen any other film with this same plot device, then Basic Love is far from essential, and should probably be skipped. Pang Brothers fans may also consider skipping this, because the film doesn’t do anything to remind us of why we were so excited by The Eye in the first place. But, fans of Rex and his Square bandmates James, Gary and Brian? Fans of Elanne Kong? Fans of Janice Man? Go right now to see Basic Love! They made this film for you. Be grateful and watch it. (Kozo 2009)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image credit: Universe Entertainment Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen