Climb every mountain, forge every stream, follow every standard romance movie, until you find your film.
The internationally recognised Hong Kong director Johnnie To is nothing if not prolific, averaging three or four films a year for the better part of the last decade. Spanning a variety of genres, To is best know for his crime and drama thrillers, set amongst the dark underbelly of Hong Kong. Yet he isn’t without a soft side, as last year’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart indicated, although this was not as well received as his more familiar critically acclaimed, albeit somewhat uneven, 2009 film Vengeance. With Romancing In Thin Air, he continues his affair with the heart.
Superstar actor Michael (Louis Koo) has it all, and it about to live a real-life fairytale by marrying his equally famous co-star Yuan Yuan (Gao Yuanyuan). However, when a coal miner/old lover whisks her away at the altar, Michael is publicly heartbroken and descends into a drunken obscurity. Michael eventually surfaces in the mountains of Shangri-la, where he encounters Sue (Sammi Cheng), a woman who puts up an indifferent front, but is secretly struggling to get over the disappearance of her husband 7 years before, and her growing feelings for Michael.
The drawcard to this otherwise predictable romance will undoubtedly be superstar Koo and pop star Cheng, the latter of whom is breaking her post Everlasting Regret acting hiatus for the second time in seven years. The pair are likeable enough individually, but together sparks don’t exactly fly. It is almost as if there are two different stories crafted for each of these big stars, but nobody thought to test out whether or not they’d work together on screen. That is not to say the film is devoid of romance, as this is certainly the type of film to take your main squeeze to. Introduce your significant other to this film, especially one who is not as versed with world cinema as you are, and you will tick boxes for sentimentality and being a cultural bringer of foreign delicacies. It’s a bit like a box of assorted chocolates, where you do kind of know which ones you are going to get, but you can’t avoid the inevitable weird cherry liquid.
So for a film that does have this sense of inevitability to it, the narrative extends well beyond the point where a romance drama would typically end. It then all gets a bit meta, with the last half hour or so re-staging everything we’ve just learned as a film within a film, and Sue is given little to do but sit on and look weepy. While the film should be applauded for trying to take a different spin on the well-worn genre, one can’t help but feeling that brevity sometimes makes the heart grow fonder.