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Chinese language cinema

Film review: Book of Love – Tang Wei, Wu Xiubo in Finding Mr Right sequel

Part Sleepless in Seattle, part You’ve Got Mail, Xue Xiaolu’s film largely keeps its two would-be lovers apart. While it’s definitely not a romantic comedy, it’s sophisticated, lyrical and melancholic

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 11:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 11:09am

3.5/5 stars

While its Chinese title promises a follow-up to the relentlessly sweet romantic comedy Finding Mr Right, writer-director Xue Xiaolu’s third feature is less a sequel than – let’s face it – an inspired cash grab.

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Working with a different story that nevertheless preserves the reverence Xue’s 2013 hit showed for Nora Ephron’s films, Book of Love takes a page from both Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail for another transcontinental romance starring Tang Wei and Wu Xiubo. It doesn’t exactly star Tang with Wu, however.

After a traumatic childhood that leaves her father’s ex-girlfriend (Kara Wai Ying-hung) as her only family, gambling addict Jiao (Tang) lives a hollow existence in Macau that sees her drift from one disastrous affair to another. Meanwhile, Daniel (Wu) has made a real estate career in Los Angeles since he reluctantly emigrated from China as a teenager; as he looks to persuade an old couple (Paul Chun Pui, Wu Yanshu) to sell their house, however, the womaniser also begins to reassess his own heartless nature.

Playing with a narrative conceit that means Tang and Wu don’t replicate their irresistible chemistry in Finding Mr. Right, the film keeps the would-be lovers apart for much of its duration through a contrivance: as pen pals, they correspond through a mysterious postal service inspired by American author Helene Hanff’s fabled book 84 Charing Cross Road. Xue’s story comes across as much an urban fable as it does a love letter in the literary tradition, with a dash of Chinese poetry thrown in for good measure.

Even if serendipity plays an unmistakable part in this story of two hopeless romantics, the one thing Book of Love doesn’t resemble, ironically, is a romantic comedy. As Jiao and Daniel bare their souls through their incessant and seemingly subliminal correspondence, Xue taps into a sense of deep longing when she turns the handwritten letters into a voice-over conversation that runs through the surprisingly sophisticated film. The result is at once melancholic and strangely lyrical.

Book of Love opens on May 5

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