The latest in Patrick Kong's trilogy of "Marriage" films (following Marriage with a Liar and Mr. and Mrs. Single), Love is the Only Answer is an improvement over standard Patrick Kong films – and that compliment is both back-handed and genuine. The film finds its origins in a juicy local legend about a bride who showed a video clip at her wedding banquet featuring the groom in flagrante delicto with one of the bridesmaids. As rumor had it, she denounced her husband, gave everyone a copy of the video and cancelled the banquet before stalking off in a heartbroken and/or triumphant huff. The couple got an immediate divorce and an urban legend was born. Love plays up this connection in its advertising ("Based on a True Story!"), but the event in question was already parodied in Herman Yau's Split Second Murders. Kong's a little late to this party.
For Love, Patrick Kong abandons his leading bimbo pair of Him Law and Chrissie Chau for a mixture of old and new. Longtime Kong mainstay Alex Fong Lik-Sun stars alongside Kong newbie and TVB regular Charmaine Sheh, whose big screen output is Lady Iron Chef and not much else. The film opens with the wedding banquet of Ryan (Fong) and Bobo (Sheh), which goes kaput when Bobo broadcasts a video clip of Ryan getting it on with some hot girl (leng mo Jeana Ho). A flashback (the first of many) details how Bobo found out, and then a time skip brings us to the present day, where the now-divorced Ryan and Bobo maintain a rather bizarre relationship. Ryan uses Bobo as a way to get rid of clingy new flings (among them Marriage with a Liar breakout actress Carol Yeung), while Bobo helps Ryan because he does her favors. Ryan buys Bobo nice meals, plus he's the landlord of her fruit store, and can discount her rent or waive it entirely. For Bobo, practicality takes precedence to pride.
Ryan and Bobo have obvious unresolved issues, among them his status as a self-satisfied bastard and hers as a passive-aggressive doormat. Ryan’s latest insane request is for Bobo to accompany him to a spouse-swapping club frequented by free-thinking couples who want some extra flavors in their marriage. Ryan targets literature-quoting hottie Sue (Kelly Fu), while Bobo categorically objects to this whole immoral exercise. But she relents when Ryan again promises her free rent, and soon finds herself attracted to Sue’s insanely nice husband Kidd (Him Law, attempting to act brawny, innocent, righteous and adorable simultaneously). Ryan and Sue sleep together while Bobo and Kidd don’t, but the relationship between the four continues past the initial spouse-swapping party. Bobo and Kidd find a maybe-more-than-one-night love connection, which doesn’t sit well with Ryan. Eventually, Bobo has to make a choice and the audience learns something about love.
Actually, they don’t, though Kong certainly tries to shove a lesson down their throats. Love is the Only Answer has one overriding message that rings sadly and cynically true. It’s conveyed through some hilariously wooden acting from Him Law, but the message is much more earned than Kong’s usual “eff-you” plot twists. The lesson reduces one of the lead characters into a seeming tool, but again, it’s something that does oddly ring true, so if that character is a tool, then many people in real life are tools too. Big lesson aside, Kong's story devolves into his typically incestuous web of soap opera plot twists, but thankfully the twists aren’t showy, and factor much less than the funny script and the lead actors. Charmaine Sheh and Alex Fong are physically mismatched (she’s five years older and looks it) but she’s a better actress than Kong’s usual singers or models.
Meanwhile, Alex Fong owns the film, turning in a charismatic and even lovable performance as a total douchebag. Ryan absolutely sucks but he makes no excuses and Fong manages to sell his character’s crappy and admirable qualities with enthusiastic and convincing glee. Despite being a player, Ryan is very self-effacing, and the film goes meta by having Fong make fun of himself in the role. Many of Love’s jokes are current jabs at the Hong Kong entertainment circle, with Fong poking fun at his own tabloid press. The script also references 3D Sex and Zen, its busty star Vonnie Lui, the Raymond Lam photo scandal, former Patrick Kong leading lady Stephy Tang, Charmaine Sheh’s hit TVB dramas and even other Patrick Kong films. Kong’s dialogue is faster, funnier and better-timed too – that is, when it isn’t being interrupted by pseudo-pithy platitudes or whiny characters. However, Kong's usual self-absorbed and insufferable monologues are gone. That’s a huge win for everyone.
Has Kong finally left his years of crappy filmmaking behind and graduated to C+ filmmaker status? Well…maybe. Judgement on Kong is still reserved, as his filmography is marked by as much regression as improvement. Indeed, Love is the Only Answer’s B plot, about an engaged couple (Jason Chan and Anjaylia Chan) and their secrets, is basically warmed over Patrick Kong leftovers, and Kong's filmmaking skills still lag way behind the pack. Laughable music, terrible story construction, annoying flashbacks, so-so production values, garish and unsubtle performances – these are problems Kong has yet to shed. Kong has shown improvement as a writer, and his themes certainly strike a chord with local audiences, but his lack of craft may prevent him from escaping his current status as just a successful hack. If Kong’s screenwriting and filmmaking were ever to meet at the same level…well, he still wouldn’t be better than a B or B- filmmaker. But if that improvement did occur, Kong could win a bigger and perhaps more discerning audience. Shockingly, Patrick Kong still has potential. Let's hope he can one day realize it. (Kozo 2011)