J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

SFFS HK Cinema ’12: Romancing in Thin Air


Is it the altitude sickness making Michael Lau nauseous or is it love?  Whichever, the binge drinking is not helping much.  Nevertheless, the heartbroken superstar might pull himself together and find real love with the help of a former fan.  Action auteur Johnnie To takes another Mainland pleasing foray into relationship drama territory with Romancing in Thin Air (trailer here), which screens this weekend as part of the San Francisco Film Society’s crowd-pleasing second annual Hong Kong Cinema Festival.

Michael Lau is coincidentally a lot like Louis Koo, the actor who plays him.  Both are popular HK romantic leads with a background in music.  Lau is going through a rough patch though.  He was to marry his co-star in an ultra-glitzy ceremony, only to be very publicly dumped at the altar.  Lau takes refuge in the bottle—hard.  Stowing away in Sue’s vintage army truck, Lau finds himself at her rustic mountain lodge, way above sea level and sick as a dog.

Sue is a widow who will not allow herself to mourn.  One night her sensitive mountain man husband went out into the forest in search of a lost child, but never returned.  Yet, Sue keeps the lodge exactly as he left it in the unrealistic hope will eventually walk through the front door.  Of course, these two broken hearts are perfect for each other, but they will have to learn that the hard way.

Johhnie To can kick it in any genre, but his previous rom-com (heavier on the rom), Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (which screened at the SFFS’s HK fest last year), travels better.  Frankly, it is hard to believe some of the things Lau does to win over/back Sue do not have the opposite effect.  However, the first two acts put a nice twist on the Notting Hill concept, establishing Sue as former Michael Lau fan club member and revealing the role the idol’s career played in her courtship with the missing Tian.

Having already proved to be a successful box-office pairing, Koo and Sammi Cheng indeed have some nice chemistry together.  Conversely, the supporting characters do not have a lot of meat to them, seemingly existing just to bring the two together.  That includes Li Guangjie’s impossibly taciturn Tian.

Clearly, both To and cinematographer Cheng Siu-keung love the mountain backdrop, luxuriating in its harsh snowcapped beauty.  Guy Zerafa’s lyrical piano score was probably supposed to be syrupier, but is actually quite elegant and evocative.  Despite some over-the-top elements here or there, Thin takes its central relationship seriously, which is endearing.  It is also an example of a genuine leading man turn from Koo, yet he is also obviously and deliberately having some fun with his own image.  Recommended for sentimental romantics, Romancing in This Air screens this Sunday (9/23) as the SFFS’s Hong Kong Cinema Festival continues at the New People Cinema.

Ann Hui’s understated but emotionally powerful A Simple Life also screens earlier that same day (9/23).  Based on a true story, it follows a decent but hardly heroic movie producer as he tries his best to look after his family’s elderly servant after she suffers a stroke.  An actors’ showcase for Andy Lau and Deanie Ip, it is a tearjerker with too much self-respect to jerk tears.  Highly recommended, a full review can be found here.

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