LOVE IN SPACE Review
Following up last year's HOT SUMMER DAYS, directors Tony Chan and Wing Shya return with LOVE IN SPACE, another ensemble romantic comedy featuring a host of exceptionally good-looking people playing out cripplingly clichéd tales of love for our entertainment. Co-financed by Fox International and China's Huayi Brothers and produced by Fruit Chan, the film boasts top drawer production values and takes place in as far flung locations as Beijing, Sydney and, um, the surface of a heart-shaped moon. The story focuses on the romantic trials and tribulations of three sisters - Rose, Lily and Peony - and their doting mother, Mary, who keeps a close eye on them, wherever in the universe they may be.
Rose (Rene Liu) is a strong, determined and stubborn astronaut who finds herself aboard a space station on her first real mission following the last-minute illness of the original crew member. While this should be a dream come true for the career-driven Rose, this unplanned course of events has put her in a confined space not much bigger than a normal bus with only Michael (Aaron Kwok), her ex-lover, and now commanding officer, for company. Although it has been 10 years since their break up, the couple has never talked openly about what happened but it is clear Rose came away more hurt. It doesn't take long before Michael's smug, self-satisfied arrogance begins to rub Rose the wrong way and when the two inevitably clash, their personal history quickly rises to the surface.
Lily (Kwai Lunmei) lives in Sydney but is battling an overwhelming case of OCD. Her unhealthy cleaning obsession has cost Lily her job and also any chance of a relationship, after her ex conned her out of her savings and ran off with another woman. She can't even pursue her passion of painting anymore and seems to be making little headway with her psychiatrist (Chapman To). But when she meets Johnny (Eason Chan) at a café, she finds herself attracted to a man for the first time in years. But before taking her out on a date, Johnny insists on telling Lily about his profession - he works with his father (Gordon Liu) as a garbage man. At first she bails, but when their paths cross again, Lily forces herself to take a chance and step out on a date once more.
Peony (Angelababy) has the looks, the career, but possibly not the talent. She is one of the most famous actresses in Beijing, but when she is voted Worst Actress of the Year she vows to improve her craft. Going undercover, Peony takes a waitress job at a coffee shop, determined to explore and master a normal life. There she meets co-worker Wen Feng (Jing Boran), a penniless writer who must even sell watermelons after-hours to support himself. Wen Feng wants to "make it big", while Peony is desperate to keep her true identity secret, something that gets harder the more she finds herself drawn to his simple, working class charms.
The stories are anchored by that of their mother, Mary (Xu Fan), an elderly widow who has taken to cooking and flower arranging to keep herself busy. When she is not sending video messages to her daughters or chasing after Peony, who still lives with her despite her fame, Mary is being schooled in the culinary arts by the besotted Uncle Hua (Liu Jinshan). All four of the Huang women, it seems, are unlucky in love, though none of them appear short of admiring suitors.
For the most part, LOVE IN SPACE bounces along at a brisk pace and manages to be fairly inoffensive. Its characters are almost entirely one-note caricatures and their story arcs as painfully predictable as they are saccharine-soaked in seizure-inducing sweetness, but the romance is so relentless and so damn wholesome that there are moments that can't fail to pluck the occasional sappy heartstring.
The weakest story in undeniably the titular orbital reconciliation, with Kwok guilty of little more than gurning and pandering to his international financiers with the occasional English exclamation of "Excellent!" There is no justifiable reason why their story takes place in space, rather than an office or any other high-stress environment, and they never attempt to make their mission in the least bit scientifically plausible. The incessant use of Strauss' The Blue Danube for any instance of weightlessness only makes you want to close the pod bay doors on the pair of them.
The most satisfying thread, on the other hand, is between Johnny and Lily. Eason Chan is one of the more affable male leads in the business, has a firm grasp of all three languages required of him and a genuinely disarming nature. Kwai Lunmei, in contrast, has an innate fragility to her that is perfect for a character whose unstoppable predilection for self-preservation is what ironically makes her so vulnerable. Together they make an unlikely but rather likable couple.
Angelababy is incredibly easy on the eye and acquits herself perfectly admirably as the materialistic celebrity who finds true love with Jing Boran's wholesome village boy, who likewise does as much as is asked of him, but no more. However, their story never really gets out of first gear nor attempts to justify its inevitable conclusion and while it is of course pleasing to see a snooty actress dragged down to the level of the common serf it's certainly no NOTTING HILL.
LOVE IN SPACE is a beautifully shot confection that has no ambition beyond keeping people distracted and entertained for a couple of hours over the Mid-Autumn Festival. There is little to suggest any real crossover appeal in international markets beyond the fact that pretty people are still pretty no matter who is looking at them. It's not a film I'd travel any great distance to catch in a hurry, but if you find it playing in front of you, giving it a few moments of your time certainly won't hurt. It may even rekindle the last remaining embers of emotion in your otherwise cynical heart of stone.