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Book of Love
The Bodyguard

Tang Wei in Book of Love.
AKA: Finding Mr. Right 2  
Chinese: 北京遇上西雅圖2  
Year: 2016
Director: Xue Xiaolu
Producer:

Bill Kong, Matthew Tang Hon-Keung, Shan Tam, Wu Huijun

Writer:

Xue Xiaolu, Mia Jiao

Action:

Kenji Tanigaki

Cast:

Tang Wei, Wu Xiubo, Paul Chun Pui, Wu Yanshu, Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Wang Zhiwen, Lu Yi, Cherry Ngan Cheuk-Ling, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Zu Feng, Zhang Yibai

  The Skinny: Globe-trotting sequel-in-spirit to Finding Mr. Right fails at matching the enjoyment of the original. As penpals separated by an ocean for the majority of the film, Tang Wei and Wu Xiubo never generate much chemistry in this outing.
 
Review
by Kozo:
The sequel-in-name-only to the hit Finding Mr. Right, romantic comedy-drama Book of Love shares many of the first film's postmodern stylings but fewer of its commercial joys. Again directed and co-written by Xue Xiaolu, Book finds returning stars Tang Wei and Wu Xiubo sharing little screentime because they're separated by the Pacific Ocean. Jiao (Tang) is a casino hostess in Macau who's looking to escape her debts by gambling even more borrowed money away. Meanwhile, Daniel Luo (Wu) is a Los Angeles realtor who cynically works to earn the trust of an elderly couple (Paul Chun and Wu Yanshu) so that he can buy their beloved suburban home and develop it for a profit. Wow, what a douche. In Finding Mr. Right, Wu Xiubo played a "Best Man Ever" archetype, but in the sequel he seems to be angling for the opposite award.

Book of Love earns its postmodern bonafides with references to other genres, including Hong Kong action (Jiao's dreams are gratuitous over-the-top action vignettes) and gangster flicks (a flashback to Jiao's teen years shows how she earned her nickname "Killer"). The script also explicitly refers to the 2008 Hollywood film 21, as Jiao and old flame Zheng Yi (Lu Yi) attempt counting cards at a casino like 21's protagonists did. However, just as Finding Mr. Right had a primary inspiration (1993 romcom Sleepless in Seattle), so does Book of Love. This time its 84 Charing Cross Road, a book by Helene Hanff about a longtime correspondence between the American Hanff and a British bookseller located at 84 Charing Cross Road in London. The book was adapted into a 1987 movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins but, despite Book of Love's fascination with movies and Hanff, the film version of 84 Charing Cross Road gets zero mention.

Daniel and Jiao connect when each chances upon a copy of the book 84 Charing Cross Road and, in a bizarre fit of pique, sends it to actual address along with a hand-written rant about how love and the opposite sex pisses them off. Somehow each is sent the other's letter and a long distance correspondence begins, with 84 Charing Cross Road diligently acting as a mail-forwarder. In between long-distance flirting, the two tend to their mounting personal issues. Jiao is trying to quit her gambling addiction and must also deal with a number of suitors, including a high-roller (Wang Zhiwen) whose attentions may compromise her integrity. Meanwhile, Daniel continues being an incredible bastard to the elderly while attending to some of his other clients in an almost charitable fashion. Many of these stories are effective, and Xue Xiaolu moves between each of them efficiently. However, the focus given to each is uneven, which gives the film a disconnected quality that hinders its ability to engage.

Tying all these stories together are Jiao and Daniel's letters, which are structured as a continuing conversation between the two. Each also imagines what the other is like, with Daniel appearing in Jiao's mind as an aged professor, while Daniel's vision of Jiao is a schoolgirl. This storytelling device is a transparent way to get Tang Wei and Wu Xiubo more screentime together otherwise, they're pretty much separated until the film's climax. Keeping the characters apart is a mixed bag; their individual stories are given strong focus, but their attraction never clicks. Their letters ultimately resemble internal monologues more than an active conversation, and Tang and Wu never generate any real chemistry that is, unless you count what you saw in Finding Mr. Right. On a meta-level, wanting to see actors get together based on their previous work makes sense. However, for this story and these characters, it's simply not effective. There isn't a strong theme, emotion or thread that pushes the characters together beyond the book 84 Charing Cross Road, which is more of a plot device than anything else.

The film does present an interesting vision of the Chinese diaspora that manages to not take sides in the whole "is it better in China or the USA" argument. Also, the actors and the production values are better than average. The editing can get occasionally hyperactive but it's never too distracting. Of the leads, Tang Wei is the strongest as she has a depth and an endearing uniqueness that suits character-based romcoms well. Wu Xiubo fares much worse; his character arc is too manufactured, and Wu never convinces as a bastard who would cynically cheat elderly people. The supporting cast, which also includes Kara Hui and Sam Lee, are largely a plus, and help to make the subplots more interesting than the overarching story. Ultimately, Book of Love is good-looking grist for the romcom mill that's enjoyable in some parts but not necessarily the ones where it's most necessary. One hopes the next Tang Wei-Wu Xiubo-Xue Xiaolu collaboration will be an improvement. Hey, at least we'll always have Finding Mr. Right. (Kozo, 8/2016)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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