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Gillian Chung continues her comeback with “Ex”, an attempt to put a more mature and insightful spin on the romantic urban drama. The film was written and directed by Heiward Mak, based upon her own novel and following up from her debut, the troubled youth drama “High Noon”. Noted for her realistic and recognisable take on modern Hong Kong society Mak has been hailed as a major new talent, and here she again sticks very much to subjects which audiences are likely to relate to, dealing with relationships, infidelity, confusion, and the ways in which everyday life can get in the way of love. The film was produced by the ever busy Chapman To, who also makes an amusing cameo appearance, with William Chan (“Beauty on Duty!”) and Michelle Wai (“Girl$”) making up the other two members of the film’s central romantic triangle.
The film opens at Hong Kong airport, with Chung’s Zhou Yi about to go on holiday with her boyfriend, until during a conversation she uncovers the painful truth that he has been unfaithful. The argument is overheard by Ping (Chan) and his girlfriend Cee (Wai), and after Zhou Yi storms off, leaving behind her luggage and passport, they kindly agree to let her stay with them, despite the fact that she just happens to be his ex. With Zhou Yi and Ping under the same roof, they inevitably begin to look back over their various relationships since leaving each other, and old feelings are soon threatening to come to the surface, much to Cee’s dismay.
“Ex” is actually a pretty smart move for Gillian Chung. Not only does it see her gaining some valuable credibility by working with a genuine talent like Heiward Mak, but it also gives her a chance to take on a role which whilst not exactly breaking the mould does take her into more mature territory. In this regard, “Ex” is a bit of a mixture, with Mak attempting to offer something believable and vaguely edgy, though without ever running the risk of losing the core romance movie audience. In part this is due to an interestingly fractured approach, with the film managing to weave in its many flashbacks in pleasingly naturalistic form, dipping into past relationships and playing upon its different characters’ perceptions and memories. It does this quite successfully, and the film has moments of real insight and hard truths amongst the expected clichés. Although it would have benefitted from a bit more of the former and less of the latter (in particular some of the wholly unnecessary angst music montage scenes), the film is more thoughtful and engaging that the average relationship drama, and Mak does score a few points for refusing to provide any easy answers or a candy coated wrap up.
Showing a deft and occasionally light touch, Mak is a fine director as well as writer, and the film has a handsome, elegant look, that marries well with an overall air of realism. With good production values and an obvious eye for real life detail, the film looks great throughout, and this does help the viewer to overlook some of its inconsistencies. The cast also give the film a boost, with Chung turning in a perfectly respectable performance in the lead. Although Zhou Yi is a bit of a difficult character to like at times and is prone to indecision and fits of illogical bad temper, Mak’s script humanises and makes her sympathetic to a winning degree and Chung thankfully never falls back on trying to make her either cutesy or kooky. Chan and Wai provide able support, and though Cee in particular is little more than a bit player in the overall scheme of things, both are convincing in their roles.
All of this makes “Ex” a film though which unlikely to stick in the mind after the credits have rolled, is entertaining and enjoyable while it lasts, especially for fans of Gillian Chung. Mak will certainly move forward to greater things, and the film does enough to confirm her place as one of Hong Kong cinema’s current great hopes.
Heiward Mak (director) / Heiward Mak (screenplay)
CAST: Gillian Chung … Zhou Yi
William Chan Wai-Ting … Ping
Michelle Wai … Cee
Lawrence Chou … Woody