Barbara Wong, noted director of hip modern Hong Kong youth films returns with “Break Up Club”, teaming again with writer producer Lawrence Cheng, who she worked with back in 2003 on her first hit “Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat”. For her latest feature, she returns to the same low key, documentary like style, using handheld cameras and a variety of techniques to chart the ups and downs of the turbulent relationship between a young, possibly mismatched couple. The film has an extra bit of spice due to the presence of rumoured real life pairing Fiona Sit and Jaycee Chan in the lead roles, who previously also played screen lovers in “2 Young”. It certainly managed to strike a chord with audiences, emerging as one of the biggest domestic box office hits of summer 2010.
Jaycee Chan plays Joe, a twenty-something layabout whose lack of commitment in finding a job or doing anything with his life has caused serious problems in the relationship with his on off girlfriend Flora (Fiona Sit). Following yet another bust up, Joe meets with a film director (Barbara Wong, as herself) who is putting together a documentary about relationships and break ups. After telling her about a strange website which promised he would get back with Flora if he managed to break up another couple, he is given a handheld camera to capture his story. The website actually seems to work, as after he breaks up his best friend’s (Patrick Tang) romance, he manages to get back together with Flora. Predictably, their courtship still refuses to run smoothly, with Joe being slow to change his slovenly ways and with Flora being pursued by a suave visiting artist (Hayama Hiro, “Love Undercover 2”).
To her credit, with “Break Up Club” Barbara Wong really does try something a little different to the usual youth oriented romance and relationship films, giving the formula a fresh spin and attempting to be resolutely modern and urban. Although the mysterious website angle is somewhat at odds with this stab at realism, it actually works quite well, adding in a touch of the offbeat. The film does come across kind of as the “Blair Witch” of its genre, with Wong manipulating the whole handheld camera gimmick as is convenient, and though there are a few moments of distracting split screen work, it generally works pretty well, and the proceedings are naturalistic and convincing, with a vaguely voyeuristic feel. Similarly, although the final twist is dragged out far too long in terms of exposition, not least since it raises more questions than it answers, it does underline the film’s commitment to including the bitter along with the sweet, as well as throwing in a welcome touch of self satire.
In terms of its central coupling, the film is also more believable and interesting than the average romantic drama, having a number of things to say about modern relationships amongst the youth of today, and about the essential differences between men and women, many of which ring true, often painfully. Although it does have a few unnecessary moments of melodrama and musical montages, the film doesn’t shy away from some of its characters’ less appealing behavioural traits, and it benefits from having a cynical edge. Whilst this means it may not be cute and fluffy enough for some genre fans, it makes for a more satisfying and insightful viewing experience as a whole. Both Chan and Sit put in good performances which fit the material, and which are quite brave, inviting the viewer to blur the line between the film and their own private lives. Interestingly, as the film progresses, it focuses more upon Flora, who becomes the more fleshed out and detailed of the two protagonists, with Joe fading into the background somewhat as a stereotypical useless male, and with the main burden and indeed choices of their relationship falling to her. Sit does a great job of shouldering this responsibility, giving Flora a convincing mixture of strength and vulnerability, and making her more convincing than the usual romantic heroine torn between two men.
As a result, though it doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions, “Break Up Club” is easily the best youth romance from Hong Kong over the last year or so. With solid performances from its leads, and a genuine attempt from Barbara Wong to provide a realistic and challenging depiction of a troubled everyday relationship, it has much to offer and should have an appeal beyond the usual genre audience.
Chun-Chun Wong (director) / Chun-Chun Wong, Lawrence Cheng (screenplay)
CAST: Jaycee Chan … Joe
Fiona Sit … Flora
Patrick Tang … Sunny