‘Love For All Seasons’

If you want a real Chinese New Year’s comedy, look no further. It’s well-made entertainment that falters in spots but remains quite satisfying.

Love for All Seasons.  Image courtesy of Mei AhTiger Hung (Louis Koo) is a successful Hong Kong businessman known as “The Heartbreaker” for his incorrigible womanizing. After several women express their anger by beating him up, he retreats to Omei Mountain in China for treatment from the all-female clan that lives in the temple there. (As a reference point, this was the home location for Tsui Hark’s THE LEGEND OF ZU).

May (Sammi Cheng) is filling in for the missing Misery (Li Bing Bing) as Master, and she puts Tiger through the wringer. A crisis arises when Misery returns, thoroughly destablized from a fresh romantic heartbreak. Not quite in her right mind, Misery decrees that she will return in one month to “kill myself and then kill each of you.”

May must master the “Heartbroken Sword Technique” in order to defeat Misery and save the Omei Clan, but she has never experienced a broken heart. The clan convinces her to travel to Hong Kong and get Tiger to break her heart. After all, he’s the expert, right? But some hearts are not so easy to break.

Wai Ka-Fai and his writing colloborators (four others received script credit) have cooked up a souffle that is light on substance but pleasant to the taste.

Johnnie To directs with an easy and sure hand. He knows just when to add slow motion shots and extreme close-ups. He knows when to keep his camera stationary (rarely) and when to gently glide it around the characters to maintain visual interest.

And it’s in the visuals that the piece really comes alive. The initial sequence on top of a city skyscraper pays homage to To’s own RUNNING OUT OF TIME; the snowy landscape of Omei Mountain is used effectively; the red, blue, and yellow track suits of the Omei Clain provide sharp contrast to the holy setting; the indoors beach party at Tiger’s apartment (no sand, but plenty of beach balls and bikinis) is inspired; the sumptuous appointments of the luxury hotel suite Tiger rents for May looks gorgeous; etc.

Sammi Cheng is not a very convincing martial artist, but she’s equally good at conveying happiness and heartache. Louis Koo feels like he’s in a LA BRASSIERE, jazzy, playful mood. Li Bing Bing effectively comes across as a ditzy maiden, but she doesn’t look very dangerous. The swordplay action looks crisp and makes one wonder what Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai could do with a modern swordplay picture.

Not everything works — the “is he lying or telling the truth?” end game is a bit wearisome — yet overall it’s gratifying to watch a film that knows its purpose is to entertain. And one in which the filmmakers treat the audience with respect.

Directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai. Written by Wai Ka-Fai and four others. With Sammi Cheng, Louis Koo, Li Bing Bing.

* DVD Notes *

93 minutes. Mei Ah DVD. Region 0. NTSC.

Mei Ah’s Region 0 DVD looks quite good on my limited home equipment; it’s said to be enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Four audio tracks are included (both DTS and DD 5.1 for Cantonese and Mandarin). The English subtitles use a font that looks more Times New Roman than Arial (if you know what I mean), but are easy to read and well timed.

Features include the original cinema trailer, a seven-minute “making of” (with Chinese subtitles only), trailers for BLACK MASK II and MY LUCKY STAR, and a “database” (brief synopsis and a bare-minimum cast and crew list).

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