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Chinese language cinema

Film review: Anniversary – Alex Fong, Stephy Tang back for Patrick Kong romance

Sequel to 2006 comedy Marriage with a Fool sees characters Keung and Bo childless after a decade of marriage and beset by temptation. For once, director offers a thoughtful take on relationships

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 3:16pm

When Patrick Kong Pak-leung made his directing debut with the insufferable My Sweetie (2004), few would have predicted it to be just a taster of the unfailingly misbegotten oeuvre to come. Since 2006’s Marriage with a Fool, the self-styled relationship guru has attracted a loyal following for his youthful romantic comedies which, with the intelligence of a chair and the subtlety of a sledgehammer, repeatedly bring home the truth that modern love is beset with nasty, ulterior motives.

The writer-turned-director’s penchant for sentimental excess was enough to ruin the recent TV spin-off Return of the Cuckoo , though he nearly makes amends with Anniversary. In what could be described in jest as his answer to Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, Kong’s fourth effort to feature the on- and off-screen couple of Alex Fong Lik-sun and Stephy Tang Lai-yan is an agreeable follow-up to Marriage with a Fool, which saw a new marriage hit the rocks when the young husband flirts with adultery.

SEE ALSO: SCMP’s 2006 review of Marriage with a Fool

Nine years have passed – in their time as well as ours – and Keung (Fong) and Bo (Tang), now in their early 30s, have entered Before Midnight territory. Jaded and still childless after a decade of marriage, the pair face fresh obstacles as the timid yet docile Keung meets an old flame (Jacky Cai Jie) and a new crush (Joy Sheng Langxi) in his capacity as a real estate agent, while the wedding planner job of the career-driven Bo puts her in the path of a frustrated groom-to-be (Jun Kung Shek-leung).

SEE ALSO: SCMP’s 2013 interview with Patrick Kong

Suspicion and betrayal are soon back on the cards, even if the pleasure of this belated sequel stems as much from Keung and Bo’s deepening insight about marriage as it does from the impressive supporting cast. In her brief scenes as Bo’s single mother, Loletta Lee Lai-chun vividly conveys the resigned sadness of a woman who has waited decades for her one true love. Meanwhile, the sudden plight of a fellow couple (Louis Cheung Kai-chung and Leila Kong) helps to put Keung and Bo’s discord in context.

As is usually the case with a film by Kong , who serves here as the producer, scriptwriter and director, Anniversary is not immune to schizophrenic shifts in tone, jarringly choppy editing and occasional lapses into embarrassing tomfoolery. While he once again wallows in self-important verbiage, Kong has also imbued this thoughtful take on relationships with moments of genuine sentiment. There is ostensibly hope yet for one of Hong Kong’s most critically derided filmmakers.

Anniversary opens on December 31