Review: Johnnie To Hits The Mark Once Again With DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART 2

Contributing Writer; Tokyo, Japan (@patrykczekaj)
Review: Johnnie To Hits The Mark Once Again With DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART 2
Veteran producer and filmmaker Johnnie To is back to his old tricks with Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2, a thoroughly watchable, stylishly lensed, beautifully unconventional, and often just plain hilarious follow-up to his hit 2011 rom-com about a trio of young up-and-coming Hong Kongers looking for love in the midst of an economic depression. Light years more formally sophisticated than Hollywood's most modern-day genre efforts, DGBMH 2 proves to be a surprisingly rewarding, often straightforwardly anti-romantic sequel that conspicuously traps its protagonists in a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of deceptive emotions, both past and present. Being a master cinematic stylist, To understands how to take familiar, worn-out genre tropes and elevate them to new heights.

Once again set against the backdrop of incomprehensibly speedy markets, To's latest expands on the original promise not only by introducing new characters, but also by offering a more intimate insight into their lives. It's all possible thanks to a steady, if not inquisitive, camera that cleverly turns its objects into subjects. Despite the film's high-rise setting and the recurring adjacent-building shots, To rarely distances the viewer from the viewed and with the help of his impressively observant eye succeeds in humanizing characters that would otherwise seem completely detached from the real world - even though on the surface they evidently are.

That said it's sometimes quite difficult to juggle their pain and to relate to the conflicts and relationships in which they find themselves embroiled. It's not that the romantic shenanigans depicted here are unrealistic; it's just that the characters are still locked in an expensive bubble of sorts and, while their feelings remain credible, some of their actions don't necessarily follow suit. Example? Shen-Ran (Louis Koo) climbs to the top of the highest building in HK without any safety equipment. And, yet, it still seems more improbable that Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) would take a bus to work in that one particularly heartbreaking scene.

To knows that the future success of his film lies mostly in the hands of the fans of the original, and cautiously gives them what they crave - another complex series of affairs, but this time he spices up the mix and throws in two new characters for good measure. If a love triangle represented the three-dimensional nature of the original film's narrative structure, then what happens here positively goes beyond imagination. But that's what Johnnie To has already accustomed us to with his standout genre efforts such as Election, Drug War, and Mad Detective.

Although the actors who played the three protagonists reprise their roles here, Daniel Wu as Qihong doesn't really take part in the proceedings up until the exciting, if not overly melodramatic, finale. One of the most versatile actors of his generation, Wu becomes one of the weakest links in the complicated scenario. What's funny is that he's not the only person who grabs a bottle of hard liquor here, but his quietly poignant drinking session also works on some strange meta-level, negating all that the audience knew about the energetic and visionary architect from the first picture.

Even though on the outside Shen-Ran is still the same cleavage-loving nouveau riche Casanova, he hasn't recovered from the dreadful defeat that ended the previous film. To finds an interesting way to introduce flashbacks that haunt the man in his dreams - they're not figments of his imaginations, but rather sentimental videos playing continuously on the wall of his empty apartment. The director thus avoids the messiness that so often results from using this particular narrative tool. Coming back to Koo - while this is hardly his best performance (Accident, anyone?), it's still quite easy to feel empathy for the troubled character. Even when he's got nothing more on his mind than chasing skirts, there's something strangely appealing about the way in which Shen-Ran goes about romancing with the girl(s) of his dreams.

As per usual Gao Yuanyuan is charming and perfectly convincing, but it's Miriam Yeung who really shines as the aptly named 'Goddess of Stock' Yang Yang-Yang. She's more down-to-earth then her younger friend, and certainly more desperate to finally find a viable marriage partner. In her relationship with Shen-Ran she's almost like the polar opposite of the original picture's heroine - Yang falls for the same tricks, makes exactly the same mistakes, but then acts as if nothing's really happened. Yes, she flirts with Zixin's handsome and well-mannered brother Paul (Vic Chou), but it's never really clear whether she's interested in him or not.

Indecisions, brief coincidences, and inaccurate assumptions - they all gradually ruin her initially peaceful life. The same goes for all the other characters, except perhaps Lam Suet, who should seriously win all the major supporting actor awards for this role. Always ready to amuse the viewers with a strong one-liner or an especially entertaining slapstick stunt, To's frequent bit-part player does magic with very limited screen time.

Fans of the late World Cup oracle Paul the Octopus will certainly appreciate the appearance of Genie the Octopus and its reverse thinking 'technique'. Saved from the butcher's knife by Yang and Paul, the adorable animal actually embodies the film's central message - being wrong is as important as being right. Bad decision follows another bad decision. But are the final ones wrong, too? Another sequel might be the answer.

The script is polished almost to perfection and, when it comes to household gags and innovative approach to humor, DGBMH 2 certainly hits more than it misses. Especially impressive is the scene, in which multiple female flight attendants unexpectedly visit Shen-Ran's office to wish him a happy birthday. Like an all-seeing eye, the camera follows Koo as he runs around the office trying to hide each one of the mistresses in a different part of his huge office. A dynamic and hilarious sequence, it's both a tribute to the greatest American comedies of the Golden Age, and a wonderfully mounted set piece that plays like a refreshing and vibrant stage play.

Hong Kong's impressive infrastructure, as well as its towering office buildings, once again becomes To's biggest comedic asset, and forms a huge part of the spacious visual narrative. In the end even the slightly frustrating parking gag speaks volumes about life in a rapidly growing metropolis.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2

  • Johnnie To
  • Ryker Chan (screenplay)
  • Ka-Fai Wai (screenplay)
  • Xi Yu (screenplay)
  • Vic Chou
  • Aaron Chow
  • Yuanyuan Gao
  • Louis Koo
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2014Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2Hong KongJohnnie To单身男女2Ryker ChanKa-Fai WaiXi YuVic ChouAaron ChowYuanyuan GaoLouis KooRomance

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