Last night it felt like I spent two hours back in Hong Kong. Actually, I went with my friend Nuria to a screening of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, directed by Johnnie To. It was one of many films screened at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival.
The film centered around mainland actress Gao Yuanyuan, who was supposed to be from Suzhou (reported to have the most beautiful women in China) and worked in Hong Kong as a financial analyst. After a traumatic breakup with her boyfriend of 7 years (who impregnates and marries another woman), Gao’s character Zhiyan finds herself in the middle of another love triangle. She meets Qihong, played by Daniel Wu, who’s just this side of homeless. He reminds me of a younger, scruffier Tsui Hark, so of course I want her to pick him from the start.
And then there’s Louis Koo, whose character Shenran is a shuai millionaire who also works in finance. Shenran represents the stereotypical young Hong Kong guy. He drives fast cars, lavishes his women with expensive material possessions, and believes men come in two types: those who cheat and those who want to cheat.
But Zhiyan wants more. She wants someone who’s completely devoted to her. Qihong, the raggedy alcoholic, turns out to be a US-trained architect originally from Canada who plays ice hockey. Zhiyan has a hard time choosing between the two.
Although it seemed like the answer was inevitable and a typical Hollywood one, I read that the ending wasn’t decided until a week before the filming was completed.
What I loved about the film–besides its gorgeous Hong Kong setting–was how it used language. Being from mainland China, Zhiyan only speaks Mandarin. The two men are more or less tri-lingual (Cantonese, Mandarin, and English), but when courting Zhiyan, the architect Qihong uses Mandarin (which is flawless) and the finance guy Shenran feels more comfortable with Cantonese. At one point, Zhiyan and Shenran argue in two languages–she in Mandarin and he in Cantonese. That’s normal in a place like Hong Kong where people might understand each other but feel most comfortable speaking in their native tongue (except of course a Renaissance man like Qihong!).
The film may not be realistic, but the message holds true no matter your culture: money can’t buy love. Thank you, Chicago International Film Festival for bringing me back to Hong Kong, if just for a couple hours.