Review: ALL'S WELL END'S WELL 2012 brims with new year cheer
Traditionally at Chinese New Year, cinema screens are filled with feel-good romantic comedies that give almost every name actor currently available a moment in the spotlight, in front of packed theatres of reunited families. This year proves no exception and writer-directors Chan Hing Ka and Janet Chun deliver the latest installment in the long-running, but grammatically-challenged ALL'S WELL END'S WELL series.
The hook this time out is a social networking website that brings four mismatched couples together and explores their dfferent relationships over the course of two hours. When his girlfriend goes out of town, one-time rockstar and struggling backing singer Carl Tam (Donnie Yen) answers an ad from Chelsia (Sandra Ng), herself once part of a successful pop duo. Looking to escape her abusive husband, Chelsia teams up with Carl and moves into his life, although her crushing fear of failure leaves her reluctant to get her career back on track.
Meanwhile, construction worker and ladies man Kin (Louis Koo) applies for a modelling job, only to lose his confidence when faced with beautiful photographer Julie (Kelly Chen) and her prying lens. Coached by her eccentric mentor Shalala (Ronald Cheng), Julie must seduce her subject if she is to get the pictures she wants, but Kin must not know it's all for show.
Elsewhere, successful romance novelist and Peter Chan Ho Sun look-a-like Hugo (Chapman To) must come to terms with the fact his appearance works against the success of his books. That is until he meets blind orphan Charmaine (Lynn Hung), who falls for his caring nature. However, with her surgery on the horizon, can Hugo believe that Charmiane will still love him once she sees he's not the strapping lothario he claims to be?
The fourth story follows Raymond Wong's divorce lawyer, who is struggling to win back the approval of his daughter (Karena Ng). He is approached by beautiful heiress Cecilia (Yang Mi) who has two weeks to get married or she'll lose her vast inheritance. Perhaps by playing surrogate father to Cecilia, he will learn how to relate better to his own adolescent offspring.
And so it goes on. Along the way there is plenty of fun to be had, with all our male protagonists sporting ridiculous wigs and playing up their own public images for the sake of some seasonal family fun, and there are lots of laughs along the way. Koo is particularly good value as the blue collar hunk who thinks the way to a woman's heart is by impressing them with his horribly broken English and tossing a few smouldering stares in their direction. It's also great to see Kelly Chen back on our screens, as the no-nonsense artist only interested in getting the shots she wants, until she finds herself undone by Kin's lovable naivety.
While Chapman To hits all the right notes as the awkward writer who recreates romantic settings for his impaired admirer in the hope she will love him for the hopeless romantic he is beneath his rather unimpressive exterior, it's the winning partnership of Sandra Ng and Donnie Yen that will attract most attention. Ng is in her element as the washed-up popette (in a thinly veiled dig at Twins), struggling to come to turns with obscurity, while her former partner enjoys continuing success. Yen is the real revelation, however, decked out in a shaggy mullet and slightly vacant expression, while more than holding his own beside his more experienced partner.
Self-confidence is the overriding theme of the film, with each of the stories hanging on whether or not our heroes can overcome their own nagging sense of doubt and take life by the horns. It's an unsurprisingly positive sentiment to convey as its audience rings in the Year of the Dragon, and it will come as little surprise to learn that self-belief and determination help see these characters through to a successful conclusion.
If a criticism is to be levelled at Chan & Chun's film, it's that there is way too much of it. Clocking in at 118 minutes, it is easily half an hour too long, and even with the quickfire pacing and relentless enthusiasm of its cast, the film does threaten to outstay its welcome at times, particularly during the Raymond Wong/Yan Ni sequences. At 90 minutes, ALL'S WELL would be a breeze, but at two hours it does start to become repetitive.
Played very broadly and packed with laugh-out-loud moments, the film remains quintessentially local and it's difficult to imagine it becoming a crossover hit internationally despite its big name cast. For those familiar with the format, however, ALL'S WELL END'S WELL 2012 proves to be a lighthearted and good-natured comedy that will give adults and children alike plenty to chuckle at, as well as a few hours' valuable respite from the pressures of seasonal family gatherings.