A Beautiful Life
Starring: Shu Qi, Liu Ye
Director: Andrew Lau Wai-keung
Category: IIA (Putonghua and Cantonese)
Umberto Eco wrote: 'Two cliches make us laugh, but a hundred cliches move us.' A Beautiful Life, in which tears, sad and happy, flow freely, confirms this.
Directed by Andrew Lau Wai-keung, the weepy romance stars Shu Qi as Li Peiru, a Hong Kong property agent hoping to secure a career breakthrough in Beijing. Amid one setback after another, the self-made woman comes across Fang Zhendong (Liu Ye, above with Shu), a righteous policeman who falls helplessly in love with her. Yet fate is unkind. Dementia intrudes, and the pair finds the clock ticking on happy times.
The mawkish plot is driven by incessant cliches, yet the age-old romantic formula somehow keeps us hooked. Lau has always been a deft storyteller, and with A Beautiful Life he confirms his reputation as a flexible and efficient director - pushing all the right emotional buttons at the right times.
Shu is the star. You have a sense that you are watching an actress pitching her performance perfectly. In a lengthy drunken monologue spanning several minutes, her character spits out anger and frustration about life in a motherland that feels like foreign soil; the outburst feels genuine and heartfelt.
In contrast Liu, whose progress as a rising star looks to have stalled recently, is straitjacketed by his 'good cop' role, which borders on being propagandistic.
His performance feels more forced than natural; in one scene an hysterical Li summons Fang to fend off officers that find her newly furnished office fails to comply with safety regulations and standards. Fang replies: 'You are not in Hong Kong, and you must respect the law.' Ouch.
The original plot, conceived around 2000, reportedly involved a Hong Kong policeman and a mainland woman. Lau shrewdly reversed the roles to keep step with contemporary trends. With a growing army of Hong Kong women failing to find a quality date among locals and the mainland becoming the city's economic lifeline, the lessons about Hong Kong-mainland relationships could not be more acute.
A Beautiful Life opens today