Taiwanese pop superstar and actor Leehom Wang expands his horizons further by co-writing and taking up the directorial reigns with “Love in Disguise”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film is a romantic comedy which sees him sticking to a subject matter which he obviously knows well himself, following a pop idol who disguises himself as a music student in order to try and find love. Wang, who has previously featured and impressed in the likes of Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” and the Jackie Chan vehicle “Little Big Soldier”, takes the lead role, with a fine supporting cast that includes actress Liu Yifei (“The Forbidden Kingdom”), Qiao Zhenyu (“Confucius”), Chen Han Tien (“Monga”) and “Super Girl” singer-songwriter Zeng Yike, not to mention acclaimed industry veteran Joan Chen.
Wang plays pop star Du Minghan (for some reason referred to as DMH in the English subtitles), whose busy schedule leaves no room for romance. After a chance encounter on the road with student Song Xiaoqing (Liu Yifei), he decides to stalk her to the Far East Musical Academy, going undercover with bandmate Wei Zhi Bai (Chen Han Tien), or WZB in the subtitles, as poor classmates from the remote, non-existent Nail Town. DMH does his best to woo her and to fight off rival Mufan (Qiao Zhenyu), whilst avoiding his agent (Joan Chen) and dodging the paparazzi, not to mention trying to promote the cause of traditional Chinese music.
“Love in Disguise” certainly sees Wang playing things safe, and the film follows the age old romantic comedy blueprint pretty much to the letter. There’s very little in the way of any surprises, and DMH’s relationship with Song Xiaoqing (who the subtitles oddly don’t refer to as SXQ) progresses entirely along predictable lines. The film has a standard three act structure which revolves around his deception, her finding out that he is actually rich and famous, and finally the question as to whether or not this means she’ll dump him as a result. This approach gives the film a distinctly generic feel, and neither Wang nor fellow writers Du Sin Yi (“My Queen”) and Chen Hung Chieh (“Hi My Sweetheart”) make much effort to add anything new to the form. Not helping matters is the fact that the film really overloads on product placement, almost to the point of Wang shamelessly holding up certain skincare items for the camera in the manner of cheap television drama.
Where the film does have a slightly different flavour is in its focus on traditional Chinese music, with lots of erhu and qin playing. On this score Wang does deserve some credit, and although he gives himself quite a few chances to show off his own pop singing skills, he makes an effort to combine this with something a little more cultural. This is furthered by the film’s frequent use of short fantasy sequences, many of which feature traditional Chinese art or landscapes. Whilst none of this is ever really employed in any depth, it gives the film a definite lift.
This aside, the film’s main strength is its overall sense of amiability, never taking itself too seriously and providing a fair amount of light hearted fun. Along with its flights of fantasy, it also has a number of cutesy touches, most of which work well enough, and a respectable amount of comedy and low key wackiness. Wang actually does a good job in handling the laughs, never overplaying his hand or making the obvious Chen Han Tien comedy relief too irritating. The film’s capers are genuinely amusing at times, as DMH rushes around trying to be two people at once, resulting in plenty of misunderstandings and moments of daft incompetence, including a left field though effective Bin Laden gag. Perhaps more importantly, the cast are all on good form, and though Wang is fine in the centre stage role, despite overdoing the puppy dog eyes at times, it’s the supporting players that arguably carry the film. The gorgeous Liu Yifei does an above average job in a fairly sketchy role as his love interest, managing enough chemistry with her onscreen beau to distract from the unlikeliness of their fairytale coupling, and proving herself an actress to watch in the future. Both Qiao Zhenyu and Chen Han Tien are decent in their roles, and Joan Chen adds a real touch of class even in such a meaningless recurring cameo part.
Ultimately, “Love in Disguise” delivers exactly as expected, and should certainly be enjoyed by fans of Leehom Wang or just romantic comedies in general. Although it’s a bit of a shame he didn’t attempt something more ambitious for his directorial debut, the film is a creditable effort and is probably one of the more enjoyable examples of the genre of late.
Leehom Wang (director) / Hung-chieh Chen, Xin Yi Du. Leehom Wang (screenplay)
CAST: Leehom Wang … Du Ming-Han
Yifei Liu … Song Xiao-Qing
Joan Chen … Joan
Han Dian Chen … Wei Zhi-Bai
Zhenyu Qiao … Mu Fan
Yike Zeng … Xiao Tao