I was quite excited to pick up "If You Are The One: Love And Marriage," the latest effort by Feng Xiaogang (one of China's most esteemed and commercially successful directors). Xiaogang is responsible for one of my favorite Chinese films of all time--the powerful and poignant "Aftershock." This is the follow-up to the 2008 romantic comedy "If You Are the One" and picks up where that one left off. To put the characters and their life situations into context, I would suggest that the sequel is better served by having seen the original film. But the story is still self-contained and it can be viewed as a stand-alone product. "Love and Marriage" is certainly a film that I wanted to love, and yet I'm really torn by my reaction to the film. The first half plays as a lightweight battle-of-the-sexes comedy, while the second half serves up a fair share of melancholy and tragedy. Either might have made a compelling film in its own right, but together--they sit rather uneasily. The thing that supposedly links the two disparate parts is the tumultuous relationship between the principle couple played by Ge You and Shu Qi. There's just one major problem. The screenplay never really convinced me that they were a viable and potentially loving couple--and without this connection, everything else seems a bit forced.
As "Love and Marriage" begins (after an elaborate introduction), You and Qi are about to embark on a trial honeymoon to see if they are compatible for marriage. You is an older man, recently retired, who is smitten with the younger lady. Qi likes the man and the potential stability of his offer, but has no real passion for the coupling. The film has a lightness in tone and the two banter and bicker like close friends. And I really liked the movie, at first. There is never any particular spark, however, so the piece gets increasingly preposterous as they start to manipulate one another with childish games. What was once fun soon becomes tiresome (to them and to this viewer) and it seems unlikely that they'd make a good match. As the film progresses, we start to advance through time and we see You and Qi as they evolve. When the film takes a decidedly maudlin turn, you know exactly what the film is steering you to hope about the principle couple. I just never felt it. I don't think the film establishes their bond convincingly. I'm being purposefully vague so as not to spoil any surprises, but the heart of this realistic romance was somewhat absent for me.
Still, both Qi and You are appealing actors and I did genuinely like the performances. The two played off one another well, especially as antagonistic friends. The film's sad second act plays on a beat too long for my taste--but again, it is extremely well acted by everyone involved. If you are a fan of either or both of the leads, I'd recommend checking this out. But be wary of any description that labels this as a romantic comedy. It is sporadically amusing at the beginning, but it doesn't really fit into the genre the marketing campaign would have you believe. The film does boast many gorgeous locales and is spectacular to look at from a technical standpoint. It's so impressive! The opening ceremony is beautiful and terrific, I wanted the rest of the picture to follow in equally unexpected ways. I wanted to love this one, but I ended up somewhat ambivalent despite its numerous good points. KGHarris, 12/11.