Film Review: Beijing Love Story

Sugary compendium of love stories set mostly in Beijing has little new to offer.

Based on a popular Chinese television series, Beijing Love Story owes its inspiration to Love, Actually and its ilk of contrived romances. Writer, director and star Chen Sicheng stuffs a large cast with varying abilities into narratives with all the charm and inventiveness of greeting cards, then sums up by announcing that love is a good thing. Receiving a worldwide release on Valentine's Day, Beijing Love Story is destined to disappoint all but the most desperate couples.

Chen gives himself the starring role in the first episode, a longwinded bit about Chen Feng, a designer who falls for the lovely Shen Yan (Chen's current real-life partner Tong Liya) at his friend's bachelor party. To win her over, Chen drinks until he vomits, then impregnates her when he runs out of condoms.

Shen had been the mistress of a wealthy businessman who offers her an expensive downtown apartment. Will she ditch a life of ease for the basically penniless Chen?

Another episode follows Wu Zheng (Wang Xuebing), who pretends to be a workaholic to sleep around on his wife (Yu Nan). When she finds sex videos on his smartphone, she decides to turn the tables by having her own affair.

Have you seen the one about the poor but loyal high-school kid who falls for a beautiful but shy and rich classmate? Liu Xingyang (Nana Ou Yang) wants to compete in a contest with her string quartet before attending music school in London, but her parents won't let her appear on television. Song Ge (Liu Haoran) cuts school to work as a delivery boy in order to pay for her fare to the auditions. Chen condenses every conceivable Young Love cliché (holding hands, first kiss, a chaste overnight together) into the sappy storyline.

The veteran actors fare better. Wang Daqi (Wang Qinxiang), a grumpy old-timer, endures a series of blind dates set up by matchmaker Gao (Siqin Gaowa). Then beautiful Xue Aijia (Elaine Jin) returns to Beijing after decades abroad, throwing Gao's plans into disarray. It's a clever and amusing segment, at least until Chen pulls the rug out with a maudlin twist.

Hong Kong stars Tony Leung Ka Fai and Carina Lau perk up the most entertaining episode, about a long-married couple who try to revive their marriage at a posh resort in Greece. Nervous about an earlier indiscretion, Liu Hui is anxious to please his wife, the imperious Jia Ling. The two spar back and forth over plastic surgery, decreased libido, overwork, their daughter Liu Xingyang, sexual fantasies and room service, ending with a bout of “Truth or Dare” that leaves each vulnerable.
Effortlessly glamorous, Lau and Leung are also expert comedians who give an extra sheen to dialogue that doesn't really merit it. If only the rest of Beijing Love Story sounded so witty and looked so beautiful.