Love on a Diet

Reviewed by YTSL

In the current slender figure obsessed Hong Kong movie world, Andy Lau and most definitely Sammi Cheng would rank among the top contenders for the titles of slimmest and thinnest of (super)star figures.  Who then would be better choices than this duo to get rendered virtually unrecognizable by way of fat body suits and the kind of facial make up that thankfully is qualitatively better than that which was used to make Carina Lau look portly as well as middle-aged and Tony Leung Kar Fai look frail as well as old in “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father” (never mind that utilized in the disastrous attempt to make Anita Yuen to play a character who was old enough to be the mother of Alan Tam, Teresa Carpio and Jordan Chan in “The Age of Miracles”)?  And who other than Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai, the co-producers and -directors of this third Milkyway Image offering of 2001, could actually think up a way of approaching the well-trodden – particularly, in the year that has followed in the wake of their “Needing You…” being the smash summer hit that it was – path of romantic comedies with such an innovative and fresh angle?

Thus far, the portends are good that this HK$28 million budget production will do well at the local box office, having beaten out the US$152.75 million budget “Pearl Harbor” for the top spot in both movies’ first week of release in the HKSAR.  Although there may be a minority out there who will take offence re some aspects of LOVE ON A DIET (notably the insinuation that all fat folks, like all of the obese people in this work, got to being the way they are by way of their possessing little self-control with regards to their eating urges), this (re)viewer will admit to her finding this film to be much less un-PC than cute and sweet as well as very funny.  But then, I do have a weakness for efforts in which major personalities are willing to do just about anything in the name of love and those they hold dear; and that which would have been more accurately entitled “Dieting for Love” doesn’t only have a woman seeking to lose 200 lbs. in six months to win back the man she had been in love with for over ten years but also has a(nother) man voluntarily turning himself into a human punching bag to earn money to enable her to seek professional help to successfully carry out this enormous undertaking.
In LOVE ON A DIET, Mini Mo (who Sammi Cheng amusingly portrays) is a Hong Konger who is the great love of a Japanese master musician named Kurokawa (played by a handsome Japanese actor who is similarly named).  Ten years previously, the then young man had been inspired by her to compose a piece that subsequently got him into a music course overseas.  Left alone in Japan to wait for Kurokawa, Mini had sought to fend off her loneliness and romantic yearning with food, more food and still more food.  The disastrous result was that she ballooned so much in weight that upon his return some years later, Kurokawa failed to realize who she was when he came face to face with her and she couldn’t bear to identify herself to him.
As luck would have it, an equally – if not more – physically huge individual (played by Andy Lau) makes Mini’s acquaintance at an immensely low point in her life -- to be precise, days after an unsuccessful suicide bid and while undergoing bids by the innkeeper she owed room rental payment to get men romantically attracted to her and thereby willing to foot her bill.  This Fei Lo (Cantonese for “Fatty” or “Fatso”) – whose real name we actually don’t ever get to know – covers her inn debt because she is a fellow Hong Konger in need, then finds that he can’t get rid of her at the nearest train station, like he had planned, even with his offering to pay for her fare.  Before too long though, the kind hearted gentleman not only learns Mini’s sob story but also resolves to help a clearly desperate as well as anguished her regain the previously svelte figure that she had.
The radical approaches Fei Lo adopts – many of which were proposed by his fellow Tokyo Chinatown residents (who include ones who come in the also rather substantial forms of Lam Suet and Wong Tin Lam) – and Mini agrees to are rather unorthodox, to say the least; seeing as they include such as the swallowing of tapeworms and incorporate acupuncture, reflexology and quite a bit of purging as well as thoroughly masochistic exercising and dieting.  Although they may not seem inherently hysterically giggle- and laughter-inducing, rest assured that the cast and crew of LOVE ON A DIET do successfully make them come across as being so.  In particular, I found the communal discussion as to how Mini could quickly shed large amounts of pounds – which was punctuated by worries voiced by Wong Tin Lam’s character re the mortality of the tapeworm that he had suggested that she should swallow, in the face of her stomach and body also being subjected to the other extreme weight loss methods advocated by others of Fei Lo’s buddies -- to be pretty prime.  The frankly inspired cutting between the scene of Mini swallowing the tapeworm and that of Fei Lo sucking up a long and thin piece of candy was something that also successfully induced a gurgly as well as “wah!” and “eeuww!” reaction from me.

Lest people think otherwise, here’s letting it be known that LOVE ON A DIET is a movie that is replete with quite a few “aaaaww” moments too (plus one that actually coaxed out a tear or more from my eyes).  Something else that I think bears emphasizing is that this thoroughly palatable offering is not – to use Tim Youngs’ words – “the gimmicky extended fat joke” that one might have had fairly good reason to expect that it would be.  While I do think that she is thinner than she ought to be, Sammi Cheng has been rather admirably quoted in a Sanney Leung translated Fluff Report as asserting that “I hope to show the beauty of an obese person.  I've always felt that society has treated fat people unfairly by associating being fat with shame and ugliness. They still, however, have beautiful love stories to tell!”  Perhaps the greatest assurance that I feel I can give people worried about this work having terribly offensive anti-fat people elements would be that after viewing it, almost the first thing I wanted to do – doubtless on account of there having been so much delicious looking food on show in an offering that was set entirely in Japan…the land of sushi, tempura, teppanyaki, yakitori, chawan mushi, etc. (yum!) -- was to go eat to my heart’s content, and the consequences of doing such be damned!

My rating for this film:  8.0