|Hong Kong's Hennessy Road is not a very romantic place - but that's okay, Crossing Hennessy is not a very romantic movie. That could be a problem for some audiences, because Ivy Ho's new film has been marketed as a romantic comedy, especially with its accordion-scored trailer promising spirited romance between Jacky Cheung and Tang Wei, complete with a scene of Cheung running in the rain to confess his love. That scene does occur in Crossing Hennessy, but instead of capping a witty and pleasing romantic comedy, it's a movie-like romantic flourish to a languid dramedy filled with real and rather unglamorous characters and situations. Audience disappointment would be understandable. It would also be a bit misplaced, because despite its uneven qualities, Crossing Hennessy is a perfectly decent little movie.
The film details the arranged meeting between Loy (Jacky Cheung) and Oi Ling (Tang Wei), two singles who could use a little shove towards marital life – at least, that's the opinion of their respective guardians. In Loy’s case, he needs some help because he’s a 41 year-old bachelor who still has trouble getting up in the morning, though he does a decent job of working in the appliances shop run by his mother, Mrs. Chiang (Bau Hei-Jing). Oi Ling already has a boyfriend – a troubled, temperamental stud named Xu (Andy On), who’s currently serving a short stint in jail – and when she’s not tirelessly helping her uncle’s home fixtures store, she’s trying to plan for Xu’s life post-prison. Loy and Oi Ling meet to appease their respective guardians and have no plan to ever meet again. But they do, first by chance and then by design, and slowly some semblance of friendship or more begins to bud.
The film’s title refers to how Loy and Oi Ling work on opposing sides of Hennessy Road – shades of Crossing Delancey, if you’re up on your culturally-focused romantic comedies. Crossing Hennessy’s cast is obviously not Jewish, but the films are similar in that both feature matchmaking as well as colorfully characterized families. Ivy Ho loads Loy’s family with massive history; Mrs. Chiang is a sassy widow, her sister (Mimi Chu) a lifelong spinster, and Loy the prodigal son who’s still smarting over the loss of his childhood love (Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee), who resurfaces in Loy’s life as a new divorcee. Rounding out the makeshift family is Uncle Ching (Danny Lee), the dog-owning family accountant and Mrs. Chiang’s current flame. Subplots bubble within the family, some revealing the characters to be less likable than would be preferable. Still, the characters are recognizable and strongly defined, such that identifying and empathizing with them is quite easy.
In comparison to Loy, Oi Ling and her life aren’t quite as developed. She dutifully lives with her uncle and aunt, but her main deal is with the hot-tempered Xu, whose life post-prison life isn’t going too smoothly. Her friendship with Loy presents an alternative, though it’s a barely felt one. Crossing Hennessy may be about a budding romance, but it’s told in Claustrophobia-like terms, meaning less flirtation and interplay and more silent observation of the people involved. Ivy Ho’s previous feature required audiences to read between the lines to see what her romantically-paralyzed characters were feeling, and she pretty much pulls the same trick here. Loy and Oi Ling show some common interests, but they barely spend any real time together, such that their love grows mostly off camera or within the performances of the actors. Ivy Ho isn't spoonfeeding anyone here.
That lack of explicit character development isn't much help for the audience, but it's great for actors looking to hone their skills with inner emotion. Jacky Cheung makes the most of the opportunity; Cheung ably demonstrates his character's changing feelings when dealing with his mother, his old flame, etc. The audience spends lots of time with Loy, so understanding him is very possible. On the other hand, Oi Ling’s relationship with Xu seems to play out in only a few key steps, with devotion degrading into duty and finally exasperation. Tang Wei plays the situation well, but she’s given less chance to really show that she prefers one guy to the other. Oddly, it’s Andy On who makes the larger impact here, managing to show a guy trapped within his own explosive, uncontrollable emotions. Not much time is spent with On, but not much needs to be, as he’s well-defined with the little screentime he’s given.
It’s the attention to character that ultimately lifts Crossing Hennessy from a disappointment into an enjoyable, if inessential character drama. Ivy Ho’s script creates recognizable, identifiable characters out of people not usually glorified on film, like a 41 year-old middle-class bachelor who still lives with his mother and spinster aunt. Loy’s family is a large highlight of the film; Bau Hei-Jing admirably chews scenery, while Danny Lee and Mimi Chu provide charming, felt support. It’s also nice to see Lowell Lo make a screen return as Loy’s appearing-only-in-dream-sequences father. Ivy Ho throws a few metaphysical red herrings into her screenplay, but their relation to the overarching story is ultimately not easily deciphered. Still, they do add color to Ho’s tapestry of internalized urban romance, where individuals fall in love in the moments between their regular, mundane lives. Crossing Hennessy does not live up to its hype, but it’s a thoughtful work with moments worth savoring. You just have to read between the lines to find them.