Contributor; Derby, England

There's the ghost of a fairly good film in Cai Xin's You Deserve To Be Single, but it's flailing desperately under the sheer volume of trite, saccharine clichés and hysterically overt product placement piled up on top of it. The cast eke a surprising amount of dramatic mileage from what initially seems like merely one more tired mainland Chinese romantic comedy, but the director and screenwriter never pause for long enough to really let the characters or the story breathe, and You Deserve To Be Single ends up frustratingly bland and largely forgettable as a result.

Li Zheng (Mike He, Love At Seventh Sight) and Li Ying (Elsie Gao) are a brother and sister who run a successful dating agency in downtown Shanghai. She's the smiling public face chairing the agency's regular speed dating nights, but they offer more services than that. If a client feels concerned about the viability of their fiancée or loyalty of their spouse, Li Zheng is the agency's number one True Love Investigator. He tests how susceptible women are to the charms of a winning smile, a leather jacket and a motorcycle, and if the client doesn't like what they see, the marriage is potentially off.

Complications ensue when affluent businessman Xiao Feng (David Wu) turns up, requesting the agency test the waters with his bride-to-be, pretty psychiatrist Fei (Ruby Lin, Driverless, Sophie's Revenge). Li Ying is immediately overwhelmed, seeing Xiao Feng as a potential catch rather than a customer.

She begs her brother to take on the case, to break the couple up rather than confirm they're meant to be together. Li Zheng grudgingly agrees to try and seduce the doctor, but as it turns out both siblings have unresolved histories with the person they're targeting, and nothing turns out quite the way the four of them had hoped.

The problem is neither the premise nor what the film does with it; Cai Xin (who co-wrote the screenplay) handles the narrative beats fairly competently for a former entertainment agent, and the third act twist even manages to be mildly surprising. You Deserve To Be Single is significantly more than the generic fluff it seems to be inside the first fifteen minutes or so. The plot is nothing wildly out of the ordinary (it's oddly similar to the recent French blockbuster Heartbreaker) but when it's all laid out on paper it's a fairly diverting yarn.

Unfortunately it doesn't feel as if the director has any real faith in it. His film is polished to within an inch of its life, overproduced, largely bloodless and touting an aspirational lifestyle for young urban Chinese so blatantly materialist it makes Go Lala Go! look like a paragon of subtlety and restraint.

The camera rarely misses an opportunity to show off the logo on whatever it's idolising. While tailing Fei, trying to make it look as if he's shopping for a car, Li Zheng is treated to a full-on Hyundai infomercial that's laughable for all the wrong reasons, not to mention a pointless pas de deux down a coastal road with both of them conspicuously driving the same vehicle.

The film ultimately tries to posit love is stronger than the lure of a swanky Aston Martin (and admittedly it does manage to seem fairly genuine about this), but it's careful to repeat the brand name a comical number of times. It has the CG layered over the top of intimate conversations; it has the overly slick roaming camera of a music video or an action movie; it has the celebrity cameos, just because; it has the split-screen, the anodyne score, the mugging to camera...

All of which proves frustrating because deep down, You Deserve To Be Single feels surprisingly human for all its glossy assembly-line vacuity. The four leads all seem genuinely invested in making the film convince; Ruby Lin especially is far better than the material deserves, turning in a quiet, assured performance as Fei that's immediately winning. Even Mike He (who struggles to impress under a makeover so glossy it looks as if he's been airbrushed) still manages to internalise a weary, rueful longing that makes their banter genuinely affecting.

Ultimately, though, it's simply not enough. Cai Xin just seems far more interested throughout in ticking off a long list of things his investors demanded be included in the film than he is in making sure more discerning audiences leave happy. You Deserve To Be Single is far from a bad film, perhaps good for an undemanding evening's entertainment, but too much of it overall is so lazy and shallow all the cast's collective effort can't make it worth recommending.

You Deserve to Be Single

  • Cai Xin
  • Cai Xin
  • Liu Yi
  • Ruby Lin
  • Mike Ho
  • David Wu
  • Angie Cho
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Cai XinLiu YiRuby LinMike HoDavid WuAngie ChoComedyDramaRomance

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