It Had to be You

Somewhat to my surprise I quite enjoyed this light and predictable contemporary romantic comedy from Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong has overly indulged in this genre since "Needing You" became such a smash hit back in 2000, most of them have really been painfully mundane and nearly all of them not co-incidentally seem to star Miriam Yeung for some mysterious reason. The only ones that have left much of an impression with me since then were "La Brassiere", "And I Hate You So", "Just One Look" and "Turn Left, Turn Right".  That's not a lot to write home about. But then no one anywhere is really making good romantic comedies anymore. Korea perhaps more than anyone has been able to inject something new into this age-old genre with their off-kilter take on the subject in films like "My Sassy Girl", "Please Teach Me English" and "Someone Special", but for every good one of these Korea is also burying us with a truckload of awful ones.
Not that "It Had to Be You" adds anything new to this genre as it sticks to all the rules and traditions, but it does it with a great deal of low-key charm, geniality, warmth and a few laughs along the way. What really sets it apart though from the slew of other rom-com's of late is an extremely
appealing performance from Karena Lam that burrows its way into your sappy glands. She is by turns screwball kooky, sweet, sympathetic and as cute as a kitten in the rain.  Karena hasn't really gone the cute route in her previous films - generally she has played straightforward, serious and intelligent characters with a bit of an impish air, but she proves here that adorably cute is well within her repertoire and she gives it everything she has with an onslaught of various expressions that will have you yelling for surrender. With those baby cheeks, being cute probably comes naturally! Directors Andrew Loo and Maurice Li clearly take advantage of this by bringing the camera in for a series of constant close-ups to smother you in her cherubic and fresh as a new batch of cream face. She glistens and sparkles like a well-lit chandelier. Her male co-star Ekin Cheng is quite amiable as well here - this is one of his better roles in a while but he does come off as a bit creaky for Karena - when the pair are next to one another in the same frame his face by comparison could be mistaken for one of the Dead Sea scrolls. But he is very likable - I just wish he would do something about his hair that just looks so unwashed and like an unmanaged sparrow's nest - at twenty-five maybe that was a cool look but now approaching forty it's time for him to find a new hair stylist. Gigi, it's really up to you to tell that him that he is no longer young nor dangerous.
This has all the ingredients you expect in a romantic comedy - two appealing characters who take an initial dislike to each another but are obviously made for one another, various obstacles to their discovering this fact, a number of plucky well-meaning friends and co-workers and of course I could add a happy ending but I won't because I don't want to spoil the film for anyone who has never experienced a romantic comedy before and has been living in Bora-Bora since their childhood. It is the little details that often make this a pleasure - the very warm relationship between Karena and her mother (Kai Heung), the games of charade that only Eric Tsang can guess, the mom in sign language telling Karena that Ekin has a great bottom, the fierce look of a cleaning lady at the store, a Faye Wong song that they sing along with, Chin Kar-lok telling his very pregnant wife (Crystal Tin) how beautiful she is and a lot of other bits that are mildly amusing or apple pie warm.
The film ominously begins with a placard that states, "Life without Love is Like Eating French Fries without Ketchup" (meaning what? That it's not as messy and you are less likely to stain your shirt?) and I felt myself cringing in terror for the saccharine flood that might be headed my way, but for the most part it avoids that even if it embraces "cute" like a long lost brother. Karena embodies the art of cute with a Hello Kitty toothbrush that she adores and an imaginary dog named Fluffy that she takes for walks in its collar after work.  Not so cute perhaps is the fact that she is the "other" woman in a three way relationship with a smarmy doctor (Wu Bing) who takes his girlfriend to the restaurant that Karena manages. Ekin who gets a job as the head cook at this restaurant has his own romantic issues - he has learned that the woman (Bobo Chan) he has been going out with for quite some time has a lover - one that proceeded Ekin and he doesn't know how to deal with this. Karena and Ekin fued, then become a shoulder to cry on and then of course try to help one another in getting their significant others back - this leads exactly where you expect it to and if it didn't I would want a refund. On hand to witness all this is Eric Tsang as the restaurant owner, Ekin's uncle Hui Siu-hung, rival Nicola Cheung and the three ever cheerful co-workers (Lee Fire, Derek Tsang - son of Eric - and the very adorable Yan Ng - "Crazy in the City").
I have to admit that while watching this film I was getting it mixed up with a plot summary I had read of "Divergence" and I kept waiting for Karena to disappear and return ten years later and was getting fairly perplexed by how long it was taking for her to vanish. That added a bit of tension to my watching experience, but in reality there is no tension in this UFO produced film and there was never meant to be - it's just a sweet tale of romance between a lovely young kook and an aging cook who needs to tidy his hair.

My rating for this film: 7.0