Contributor; Derby, England
As far as changing the subject goes, Alexi Tan's Color Me Love is a pretty drastic switch - from the stylish but somewhat empty action bombast of Blood Brothers to a Chinese take on The Devil Wears Prada. The bigger shock, however, is Color Me Love is a huge improvement over Tan's debut, almost as if this was what he wanted to do all along (okay, probably not, but reportedly it offered him a good deal more creative freedom, at least). While it follows a fairly predictable narrative it's funny, lively, warm and sweet, a bright and breezy piece of direction with some terrific chemistry between its two leads.

Though it's not a remake, the premise is roughly similar. Fei Wang (Chao Yen, Love in Cosmo, Sophie's Revenge) is the perky country girl newly arrived in Beijing after her aunt wrangles her a position on a prestigious lifestyle magazine, with Joan Chen as its fearsome editor-in-chief. Fei's sent out to learn everything she can under the patient guidance of Polly (Monica Mok, Accident, Ocean Flame) the wry, jaded PA, but they run headlong into Yi Hong (Liu Ye, Driverless, City of Life and Death), a bad boy wunderkind whose artwork is the toast of the industry.

Fei hates Yi Hong on sight, and the feeling seems to be mutual - but surprise, surprise, there's a growing attraction developing between them, though it comes with all manner of emotional baggage. Will everything work out? To Tan's credit, and that of original writer Cai Shen Ning (also responsible for Kung Fu Hip Hop, bizarrely enough) Color Me Love is very obviously about the journey, rather than the destination. Everyone involved seems well aware of this, and the film's immeasurably better for it. It's relatively simplistic, but the relaxed, easy pacing gives the characters plenty of room to develop, meaning Color Me Love is something more than merely fluff.

There's just enough real pathos to the different story arcs (mainly Yi's relationship with an old girlfriend, and Joan Chen's ongoing custody battle with her ex-husband) that the cast can turn them into something genuinely affecting. The protagonists are stock types, but Tan gives them ample time to display enough personality they come across as human, rather than clich├ęs. This is still a pastel-coloured fantasy of conspicuous consumption without material consequence, but Tan never pushes that aspect of the film so much as to make it obnoxious, except for people who wouldn't choose to watch it in the first place.

It is definitely a film for those that want to buy into it, but at least the central couple feel worth rooting for. Liu Ye has always been able to ham it up with aplomb, and he's clearly relishing the chance to play a scoundrel - though he never takes Yi Hong anywhere near outright camp, and his ultimate resolution feels like someone actually growing up a little. Chao Yen is the biggest surprise, after her nothing role in Sophie's Revenge. While it's still a little too obvious she's a model in real life, she's different enough from the norm this is hardly a problem, and though cast as a paragon of virtue she's always charming, never cloying.

In fact there's a light touch to the whole thing that makes for hugely entertaining watching. Beyond his obvious technical flair Tan resists pat moral homilies, even though he uses some pretty cut-and-dried narrative conflicts, and although he throws in a few moments of physical comedy he resists the brainless pratfall or the gross-out gag. Seeing Liu Ye playing with cute kids or trying not to let his mask slip - while obviously well aware how others see him - is quietly, winningly funny, and the script manages some genuinely sly, subversive one-liners in amongst the more typical jokes.

It is a romantic comedy, detached from reality in many respects (it's telling, say, that we never see Fei's apartment again after the introduction). It's playing to a very specific audience and does little if anything out of the ordinary. But it's a lovely piece of commercial cinema, wonderfully polished and good-hearted enough you can forget, for a time, it's essentially a fairytale. The ending feels like an appropriate coda to a well-crafted story, not (as with so many other romcoms) a bone thrown to the crowd after pandering to them for ninety minutes. Color Me Love is product through and through, but it's still a delight to watch, and if popcorn romance is what you're after it comes strongly recommended.

Color Me Love

  • Alexi Tan
  • Cai Shen Ning
  • Alexi Tan (screenplay)
  • Ye Liu
  • Chen Yao
  • Joan Chen
  • Monica Mok
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Alexi TanCai Shen NingYe LiuChen YaoJoan ChenMonica MokComedyRomance

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