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Love Is Not All Around

(left) Alex Fong, and (right) Miki Yeung and Stephy Tang.
Chinese: 十分愛  
Year: 2007  
Director: Patrick Kong  
Producer: Paco Wong  
Writer: Patrick Kong  
Cast: Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Stephy Tang Lai-Yun Linda Chung Ka-Yan, Sammy, Miki Yeung Oi-Gan, Hins Cheung King-Hin, Terry Wu Ching-Nam, Wang Nan, Sheila Chan Suk-Lan, Philip Ng Won-Lung, Monie Tung Man-Lei, Mimi Chu Mi-Mi, Janice Man, Harriet Yeung Sze-Man
The Skinny: Wow, this movie is bad. While possessing a couple of clever ideas, this punishing youth comedy-drama is far too clunky and ham-handed to be successful. Yip Lim-Sum was recently nominated for Best New Director, but we're still not buying what he's selling.
by Kozo:

Director Yip Lim-Sum (AKA: Patrick Kong), auteur of the very overrated Marriage with a Fool, returns with his latest romantic nightmare Love is Not All Around. Yip was recently nominated for Best New Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards, but thankfully lost. Normally I would consider it bad form to knock a new director for gaining recognition because frankly, Hong Kong needs all the new directors it can get.

In Yip's case, however, the credit may have come prematurely. Marriage with a Fool was hyped up as a clever and telling romantic drama about modern relationships. The film occasionally lived up to some of that hype, as it did possess a few clever observations on modern love, but it negated its positive aspects thanks to its weak narrative, and egregious, unearned melodrama. Yip did some things right, but he also did a lot of things wrong, including directing the film with the subtlety of a drunk elephant. Yip returns full force with Love is Not All Around, giving us five times the clever musings on life and love, but also upping the crap quotient considerably. This may make our Worst Movies of 2007 list. Place your bets now.

Soft plastic screen goddess Stephy Tang takes center stage as Bo, a hot girl who uses her ample feminine wiles to score with the guys. She's as adept at dating strategy as she is adorable-looking, meaning she's pretty damn good at getting her way with the boys. Thanks to some overly-forthcoming voiceover, we learn early on that Bo is more realistic than romantic. However, that cynicism is tested thanks to the reappearance of ex-boyfriend Ryan (Alex Fong Lik-Sun), who once upon a time reacted poorly to getting dumped.

Bo was using Ryan to get to another guy, and after ridding herself of Ryan, a bunch of bad luck started to occur. Her cat got poisoned, her mom pushed down the stairs, and her new boyfriend sent to the hospital. Reportedly a vengeful Ryan was the culprit - a suspicion made more credible since his words at the breakup included, "You must be punished!" Sounds like extreme sour grapes, and who wouldn't get all worked up over losing Bo? After all, she's played by Stephy Tang in a variety of chest-hugging outfits. Too bad said outfits are sometimes quite tacky, and make Tang look like a misguided fashion victim. But I digress.

Ryan may have been pulling a Fatal Attraction-lite some years back, but upon reappearing he seems to have his act together. Bo isn't so quick to surrender to his attentions, and besides, she has the attentions of a new guy, super nice doctor Joe (Hins Cheung), who looks like the Hong Kong version of Doogie Howser. Bo meets Joe at the hospital after accidentally getting dishwashing liquid in her eye in what has to be one of the most idiotic and awkwardly-acted comedy sequences ever put to film. The two hit if off fairly well, and bond when Joe reveals he can play the piano like some sort of popstar-in-training.

But, your usual situation comedy arises to put Bo into a terrible love triangle. Who will she choose, the possibly reformed former beau or the incredibly super nice doctor kid? And what will she do about old friend Wing (Sammy), who's cheating on his new wife Ching (Linda Chung), and constantly making Bo his confidant? Can this babelicous Hong Kong girl get a break with love? And can she fix her wardrobe before she's picked up for soliciting?

Yip Lim-Sum apparently loves relationship issues, and in Love is Not All Around, he has a virtual toybox of familiar themes and anxieties to play with. Besides issues of compatibility and infidelity, we also get a front-row seat for newlywed blues, unrequited love, premature judgement, mistaken identity, plus duplicity, serendipity, and probably even fiscal responsibility and ill-advised promiscuity in the hope-it-never-happens director's cut version. That's a whole barrel of relationship landmines to cover, and Yip's characters get down-and-dirty in them like romantic comedy mud wrestlers. Some of the situations displayed are actually quite interesting, and could work if Yip could make his characters identifiable.

The problem is he can't - unless you happen to identify with shrill, irrational, and sadistic modern youth who are more in love with themselves than anyone else. Yip's characters seem more like types than well-rounded characters, each serving a particular function in this jigsaw puzzle of loaded relationship issues. It would be nice if people in this film behaved as if they were driven by personalities, and not the screenwriter's need to foist yet another pessimistic relationship observation on us.

But pessimism? That's Yip Lim-Sum's bread and butter. Marriage with a Fool got some local cred for its somewhat unexpected ending, which took a happy resolution and quickly reversed it. The about-face seemed to signal some thematic depth, but it also played like some self-indulgent directorial rub-it-in-your-face move, as in "You thought this couple would live happily ever after? Psyche!" Yip brings that indulgence to Love is Not All Around and multiples it. The title should clue you in already (Love is Not All Around? Hmmmm.), but the message can be pretty much summed up in two words: people suck.

Love is Not All Around attempts a more clever-than-usual narrative, delivering numerous plot twists and flashbacks designed to make you think, "Ah, so that's really what's going on. Those magnificent bastards!" Characters assume one thing only to discover something else, and people are usually revealed as much worse than they initially seemed to be. There's some entertainment value in that, but given the sheer amount of negative twists we get subjected to, the message seems to change from "People suck" to "People suck hard." If there's a lesson in Love is Not All Around, it seems to be this: avoid relationships because you'll get screwed. Figuratively, that is.

This sort of narrative twisting can actually lift a film, if Yip actually had some sort of craft going on with his direction. Unfortunately, he doesn't; Love is Not All Around is directed in a very clumsy manner, betraying its intentions with obvious music cues and too many scenes of characters looking back wistfully in slow motion. Every technique and trick Yip employs has been done before, and usually in a film with a far more accomplished script than this one. Too many scenes in the film are punctuated by people pouring their hearts out in syrupy displays of realization or contrition, and the dialogue they're given is so self-aware and touchy-feely that it borders on embarrassing.

In the world of Love is Not All Around, people seem to store up big speeches about their personal emotional growth in case some old friend or flame bumps into them on the street, whereupon they unleash a torrent of pent-up "all about me" dialogue. The onscreen effect is one of emotional catharsis, but down in the audience it smells like someone just puked. Why do movies like this have to be so incredibly literal in their examination of love and its emotional effects on people? Can't something go unsaid once in a while?

Apparently not, since the screenplay pretty much spells everything out in huge neon letters. Basically, this is not a good movie, and may actually be worse than the already disappointing Marriage with a Fool. Love is Not All Around attempts significance with its numerous reveals, but there are so many that they cease to become believable, and start to border on the comic. The actors also have a hard time selling the material; most of the cast does okay, but the situations they're put in are so unreal and cloying that the actors only look silly.

At least Stephy Tang is around to prevent red-blooded males from blinking, and her Cookie cohort Miki Yeung sure knows how to wear a pair of shorts. Alex Fong is Alex Fong, which is probably enough for his fans. Yip Lim-Sum does have some tools as a screenwriter (though one of his big reveals is a massive Asian Cinema cliché), but he may wish to polish his skills as a director. Love is Not All Around is transparent in its direction, and lacks wit, style, and credibility. This isn't an issue of effort, because Yip Lim-Sum certainly tries. However, given the resulting quality of Love is Not All Around, his effort simply seems misguided, and even presumptuous. When he tries again, hopefully Yip Lim-Sum will have learned. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Gold Label Publishing
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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