In the film business these days, China seems to be the word on everyone's lips, as its market is in the midst of a breathless expansion. However, strict quotas on foreign imports mean that only 35 international films get to share in the spoils every year.
To get around this system, a number of foreign companies have begun co-producing films with China, though the results thus far have been mixed. The Korean media giant CJ Entertainment has been investing in the mainland for quite some time, but they have just scored their biggest hit with the romantic comedy A Wedding Invitation, their first fully-produced film for the Chinese market.
After five years of dating, QiaoQiao breaks up with LiXing, telling him they need to pursue their separate careers, though she is actually trying to shield him from her grave illness. They promise to get back together after another five years once they've established themselves. Following the allotted time, QiaoQiao returns to Beijing from Shanghai only to find that LiXing is engaged to another woman, but she's not ready to give him up quite so easily.
Coming just after the huge success of the Tang Wei rom-com Finding Mr. Right, this latest offering has appeared at an opportune time, as the Chinese populace's thirst for locally produced comedy has begun to skyrocket. However, though the film is shot on the mainland and features Chinese and Taiwanese stars, in many respects A Wedding Invitation feels like a Korean film. This is no accident, as CJ brought in director Oh Gi-hwan (The Art of Seduction, 2005) as well as a bevy of behind-the-scenes Korean talent such as KIM Young-ho (director of photography), HWANG Soon-wook (chief lighting operator), SHIN Min-kyung (editor) and LEE Ji-su (music director).
An abundance of white light, clean, modern furniture and the trappings of a modern lifestyle bring to mind the polished aesthetic of Korean rom-coms but the similarities do not only occur on a technical level as parts of the story are inflected with a decidedly Korean touch. This is particularly evident in its obsession with comfort and consumerism and its inclusion of a terminal illness. Concerning the first, Korea's economy rose quickly, wrenching its citizens to higher classes and more affluent lifestyles in the process, and the same in currently happening in China. Regarding the latter point, the film indulges in the melodramatic staples of Korean entertainment, particularly as it switches gears in its last act.
As QiaoQiao, young mainland star Bai Baihe is an attractive and charismatic lead. Were it not for her charm, the film would have fared a lot worse. As for the male lead, Eddie Peng looks the part as the cocky and confident love interest, but his performance is too stiff to be memorable. Outside of the cast, the film's technical specs are strong, if a little hazy and streamlined, and director Oh keeps the film tight and on course. By refraining from unnecessary diversions, A Wedding Invitation is well paced at a reasonable 104 minutes. The film's relative brevity is perhaps its biggest difference from Korean fare.
Though I've enjoyed a great many Korean rom-coms, this particular vein of mild and polished offerings haven't always been my cup of tea. A Wedding Invitation is a handsome and mostly harmless diversion that plays well with its target audience, even if it feels a little inert. As already mentioned, the most notable thing about this production is what its huge success might mean for the future of the Korean film industry as it pursues expansion to the international scene through co-productions. A solid choice for rom-com fans, A Wedding Invitation is a breezy, if somewhat undemanding bit of escapism.