Continuing my occasional sampling of mainstream Chinese movies playing at the downtown multiplexes, I found much to like in this sentimental network narrative about love and loss in contemporary Beijing. This is director Chen Sicheng’s first feature film, and it’s apparently based on a TV series he made previously. In five loosely linked episodes it follows the romantic travails of couples from different generations and life situations.
In the first episode, a young architect (played by the director himself) finds his true love, but he can’t afford to support her in the manner her mother demands. Meanwhile her ex-boyfriend, who is filthy rich, offers them a house if she’ll spend two hours with him. In the second episode, the architect’s womanizing boss is found out by his neglected wife, who goes looking for revenge sex in a Beijing nightclub. In the third episode, her old boss, with whom she had had an affair in the past, meets with a woman at a resort in Greece, apparently behind the backs of their respective spouses, but gradually we learn differently, as they spar over the stagnation in their relationship. In the fourth episode (the least substantial of the five) their daughter is wooed by her college classmate, who can see auras, but she’s about to leave to study in England. This episode links up to the first when we see something that happened in that one from the other side of the wall. Finally, in the fifth episode the boy’s grandfather is hectored into finding a new wife by a woman whose relationship with him is gradually revealed.
The only actors I recognized were Tony Leung Ka Fai and Carina Lau, who play the middle aged couple bickering in Greece. The stories didn’t seem particularly original, but there were some nice twists and turns and grace notes and genuine tenderness. Some of it is very funny, but it hits some powerful serious notes as well. Appropriate to the title, it’s also a love letter to Beijing, with many passages just exploring the streets and street life of the big city. It has a nice, playful visual style, and even the relatively pointless fourth episode has a beautiful moment where the boy dreams of flying above the amazed people in the street, which is executed with great elan. The final shot takes place in a hospital and is a long tracking shot that moves down stairwells and through corridors, discovering the characters in their separate spaces along the way — a bravura sequence that’s simultaneously intimate.
As sentimental as the film is over all, the humor can be pretty wry, perhaps reflecting a big city perspective. Over the end credits, the neglected wife from the second episode discusses love and desire with male friends at a restaurant. One of the men says, “If meeting the wrong person at the right time is desire, and the right person at the right time is love, what’s meeting the wrong person at the wrong time?”
“Marriage,” says the neglected wife.