Pang Ho Cheung, arguably most the talented and exciting Hong Kong film maker of the last decade, serves as producer on “Lacuna”, directed by his regular collaborators Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan, who wrote his superb slasher “Dream Home”. The film sees the duo following up their unexpectedly on the money 2010 romantic ensemble drama “Lover’s Discourse” with more of the same, another very contemporary life and love story of sorts, revolving around the wild antics of a (very) drunken night out in Beijing. For its lead couple the film stars top Hong Kong actor Shawn Yue, who combined with Pang to great effect on the charismatic “Love in a Puff” plus sequel, and Mainland actress Zhang Jingchu, recently seen in the likes of “Flirting Scholar 2” and “City Under Siege”.
The film gets off to a disorienting start, with Shen Wei (Shawn Yue) and Tong Xin (Zhang Jingchu) waking up naked in bed together in a furniture store with raging hangovers and no idea how they got there. Understandably feeling a bit awkward, the pair say their goodbyes, though are soon brought back together by the events of the night before after pictures of them together start turning up on the internet, and with Xin having lost the US$300,000 dollars given to her by her film director boss to pay off an actress and Wei having left his car somewhere in the city. Joining forces to try and pick up the pieces and find out exactly what happened, they uncover a bizarre trail of chaos, possibly falling for each other in the process.
“Lacuna” (a word meaning a missing section of text or music) is certainly a very modern and urban affair, with good use of internet technology and references to things like Weibo micro-blogging giving it a very current feel. This feeds through to the film’s visuals as well, Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan going for a down to earth but slick and brightly-lit depiction of Beijing’s nightlife, with lots of shots of hip clubs and bars and other such appealing locations. This all works surprisingly well, and the film succeeds where countless other glossy Chinese would-be relevant romances and dramas and have failed in creating a picture of the fast moving life of the modern young Chinese upper middle class that’s both engaging and believable.
This to an extent helps mask some of the failings of the plot, which is basically a more romantic and less bad taste version of Hollywood hit “The Hangover”, even copying a few of its twists. Although well-constructed and paced, the narrative feels a little at times like joining the dots, and geographically doesn’t quite ring true, covering a huge amount of ground and events in one evening when the two protagonists were likely too drunk even to stagger to the next bar. Everything comes together very neatly, Wei and Xin ultimately not having too much trouble in figuring things out or having to do much detective work, and whilst the film is frequently very funny there’s a strange lack of any shocks or real surprises.
On the plus side, this does keep the film somewhat grounded, and it benefits from a kind of laid back air which keeps the focus primarily on its characters and their burgeoning relationship. Given that the two have already hooked up from the first scene, the film is pleasingly different to most romances, avoiding many of the usual clichés and forced tension that comes from keeping the viewer waiting for the inevitable. Both Shawn Yue and Zhang Jingchu are immensely likeable in their roles, and there’s a genuine chemistry between the two throughout. Tsang and Wan do a great job of slowly allowing their attraction and feelings grow, and by relying mainly on meandering banter and conversation rather than melodramatic set pieces, the film taps into the same kind of engagingly naturalistic vibe as Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”
Although there’s nothing too edgy or emotionally substantial here, “Lacuna” is easily one of the more enjoyable Chinese romances of the last year. Anchored by solid lead performances and presenting an inviting portrait of Beijing nightlife, it’s a fun and reasonably intelligent film that, like “Lover’s Discourse”, suggests that Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan are directors worth keeping an eye on.
Derek Tsang, Jimmy Wan (director)
CAST: Shawn Yue