Next up, a romantic comedy from China. And we all know how usually unsuccessful they can be don’t we? However, this one has three things going for it: it has done amazing business back in China; despite the ex-blacklist star being the wonderful Tang Wei (Speed Angels not withstanding!); and the Director being Xue Xiao-lu (who gave us the excellent but not reviewed here “Ocean Heaven”. Could this mix of elements produce a proper rom-com from China that actually touches this reviewer?
In “Finding Mr. Right” we follow JiaJia (Tang Wei) on her arrival in Seattle from Bejing. Now JiaJia is the Mistress of shady businessmand Zhong (never seen, occasionally heard), who has been sent to the States to give birth to their Son. It turns out there are a number of Maternity Houses in the USA which provide pre and post natal care to Chinese women in such situations, totally illegal of course. JiaJia appears to be little more than a selfish, money obsessed Gold Digger, influenced by Ma Nuo and her “I would rather cry in a BMW” statement. Her benefactor has given her a no-limit credit card, and she wastes no time trying to use it and her brash attitude to get everything she wants. Much of the brunt of this behaviour is taken by Frank (Wu Xiubo), an ex-Chinese Doctor, who has moved to the States because of the health of his Daughter and the important job of his Wife. Frank now is little more than a driver for the women who have been sent over to the city, and he is quiet and withdrawn, basically a doormat, but with an honest heart. JiaJia falls out with pretty much everyone, but it becomes quite clear that some of her behaviour is maybe a front, and only with Frank does the occasional glimpse of the real woman start to escape. She befriends Frank and his Daughter, and a bond starts to grow, strengthened when her absent lover has his assets frozen due to fraud charges. Frank has been keeping some secrets of his own mind you, so the question is, can these two people actually realise they are right for each other?
This really is a wonderful little movie. It certainly takes many cues from “Sleepless in Seattle”, but for my money there is a fair bit more than romantic schmaltz going on here. It takes a really interesting premise (I mean, how many other romantic films do we have the leading female heavily pregnant with someone’s child for 98% of the running time?), and uses the foreign environment to gently explore all sorts of ideas about current Chinese mores such as materialism, opportunity, sexuality, healthcare and relationships. It manages to be hilarious and heart-warming, but also carries a fair bit of weight in terms of darker emotions and feelings.
The film lives or dies however on the performances of its leading cast, and I am happy to say Tang Wei not only brings her A-game, but reveals abilities I really had not idea she had. Up to now, her best work has been as quite down trodden characters, and impressive as she might have been, one got the feeling she was maybe a little one-note in her abilities and roles she had been able to take. Here though she suddenly displays all sorts of skills I had only dared hope she might have – she is a brilliant comic, and her screen presence is astonishing, although not to the extent that she overwhelms the rest of the cast. She actually has real chemistry with everyone she encounters, none more so than Wu Xiubo, who brings a quiet understated quality to his Frank. He is about as far as a classic romantic foil as you can get, but in few words and actions you really get to feel what a fantastic guy he is, an unselfish caring Father, whose only real flaw is that he allows others to trample all over him.
Now, let’s be honest, we have all seen these kinds of films before. One half of the romantic pairing is frankly unbearable, but the mix of an epiphany, and the influence of the other character, eventually brings about that match made in heaven. And whilst there is a fair amount of this on show here, there is something a little more interesting going on, showing a depth in the writing that is unusual in such movies. JiaJia may well appear at the outset to be utterly unbearable, the worst kind of cliché. But then we have to remember that she has just been on a 12 hour flight, she’s pregnant, and has been basically sent away in near shame. There is of course that moment of epiphany, but the real change starts happening much earlier in the movie. Barely 20 minutes into the film, and JiaJia tells Frank that basically he shouldn’t judge her, that actually she is not the Gold-digging professional mistress she appears to be, and that she’s a far more complex individual, with a real heart of gold, and nothing means more to her than looking after her Son. This not only makes JiaJia a more sympathetic character, but just shows real classy scripting. Every scene after that breaks down that initial impression little by little.
The film is beautifully shot, making good use of Vancouver (as usual substituting for Seattle and New York, other than some 2nd Unit stuff). If it has some flaws, they are minor. One reveal about a fellow resident at the maternity house is possibly revealed a little too early (and could have been used in a more negative context, but sleeping on it I think dealing wit hit in such a mature way was actually a bonus), and it could have done with a little more interaction with real American people (other than a brilliant scene in a Wedding Dress shop, JiaJia rarely interacts with non-Chinese immigrants – her Doctor, the stand she buys some Crab from, Frank and his family are all Chinese). But, these are minor quibbles at best.
No bones about it… I adored this film. It has one towering performance, moments of hilarity and a surprising ability to touch your emotions. I thought it might be good, but I wasn’t expecting it to be Highly Recommended. Which it is. Unreservedly.