by Jaime Grijalba.
a.k.a. Romancing in Thin Air
(China/Hong Kong, 111 min)
For some reason we’ve been having a surge of ‘known’ asian directors that have released films in early 2012 (if at this time can be called early), I’m talking about the action-cop film director Dante Lam and our last entry on this series: ‘The Viral Factor’ (2012), and now this, from the director Johnnie To, famous for his films about mafia, crime and detectives, we have… a romantic film. Even though it’s not his first foray into this genre, last year he made the romantic film ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ (2011), co-directed with his usual collaboratorKa-Fai Wai. But this one is something of another kind, as it mixes both comedic and melodramatic elements into the plot, as well as incorporing some meta-elements, as a film is made inside the plot of the film, and we actually get two parallel storylines inside one movie, and I’m guessing that’s why the film seems to have a numerical number in its original title (the ‘II’ at the end of the title is not a chinese word), as if we were grateful we got two stories by the price of one, when what we actually want is one good strong story, not a back story that turns into some kind of confusing side-story that makes up for almost 45 minutes of the runtime and then go away and try to combine both of the plotlines trying to make some sense of the connection, giving us an unsatisfying sappy ending.
The film starts with a montage (always a bad sign) of non-existant movies, award shows and press conferences that center around one actor, the rising star of the moment in Hong Kong, the best new actor, a discovery, all these things are spelled out for us in the first few minutes, as we also see how his usual female co-star gets emotionally involved with him, with a love confession and marriage proposal in the middle of receiving the prize for best actor in the Hong Kong equivalent of the Oscars. That moment is so sweet that the rest of the film feels so endulcorated that it’s impossible to look at it without thinking of that really striking and completely ridiculous moment. It even strikes you as even more naive and just not cool when this actress leaves him when they are about to get married, just when they are finishing reading their vows, before the priest started to sacramentalize the whole thing, and the most impressive and ridiculous aspect of the whole thing: it’s being broadcast nationally just when a guy comes and infiltrates the wedding, remembering the actress about a promess of eternal love she made before she became famous, and in just a moment, we are torn apart: What will she do? The dilemma lasts two seconds as we see her leave with the new unseen, underdevoloped and totally unattractive person that she promised eternal love to. Shall I add that she looks completely unconvinced of her action? Yeah, but whatever, the movie isn’t about him recovering the love of his life, but finding something else, I don’t know if its love what he looks for, but hell, he sure risks a lot to just be friends with a girl.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, the thing is that this actor is helpless. We move the action to a lodge in the snowy mountains of China, where three women take care of tourists and people that come to spend the day or several days in the cold, either skiing or exploring the dangerous forests that sorround the place, the same forest that hold one incredible and unbelievable secret that when you actually find out about it (which forms most of the second story of the film) you would just laugh instead of cry, as the movie thinks its aim is, because, after all, we are in the presence of a tearjerker that doesn’t know where to go. Sometimes it tries to be funny, other times tries to be a comment on celebrity and the paparazzis, and then it goes for the meta-approach imitating known hong-kong movies or stars, and then it’s just a mess of a film that one can barely take seriously when it tries to get its message through. But anyway, the thing is that these girls at the hostel in the middle of the mountains happen to encounter this famous actor (many of them fanatics of him) drunk out of his mind and almost intoxicated to the point of death. And even if that’s not a telling way to say that this guy’s life was saved, then he takes a truck completely drunk and crashes into a ditch, so the whole town has to come around to help him (the girls conceal him good so he goes unnoticed). The actor is so heartbroken that he never wants to act again and just wants to drink his sorrows away (but later into the story, after we are interrupted by the stupid and unbelievable facts of the second thread of plot) we see him making a spot for Pepsi (the screen filled with Pepsi logos) and then directing a tasteless movie based on the second story.
Why I’m just naming the second story and not talking about it? Because since it comes so later into the story, I think that I’ve spoiled enough when I say that there is a second story regarding one of the owners of the hostel in the mountains, but let me say to you that it is the basis for the feature film-inside-the-film that we see towards the end, but with a changed ending, and when you think about how the real story ends, it is quite distasteful. I think they got the editing all wrong, the woman whose story we see turned into a film (twice, one: the film itself, twice: in the film they make a film about it, Ooooh look at me, I’m so meta) starts to walk out as she feels the impending ending, but she stays as it changes… if she were a real human being, she would’ve walked out of the movie the moment something different happened, and she could’ve walked out of this movie as well, because it has serious moral issues. Nevertheless, the acting is descent, and the places and cinematography quite striking. If you find anything interesting in this review about the film, you might as well get your head examined, the rest, just avoid it like the plague, quick!