“Mr. and Ms. Single” is the latest offering from Hong Kong director Patrick Kong, and is another in his ongoing line of modern Chinese urban romances, following the likes of “Marriage with a Liar”, “Love is Not All Around” and others. The film was his 10th, and both his first made especially for the lucrative Mainland market, and the first which he didn’t actually write himself, being based on a popular stage play, with a script from original writer Ha Zhi Chao and Ru Xiao Guo. The film does represent Kong’s next step up the commercial cinema ladder, and appropriately sees him bringing together an impressive big name cast, including popular actor singer Eason Chan (recently in “Lover’s Discourse”), Rene Liu (“Hot Summer Days”), Bai Bing (“Let the Bullets Fly”) and Harlem Yu (“Butterfly Lovers”).
The plot covers some familiar rom-com territory, with Eason Chan as the rather dowdy Cui Minguo, whose flashy friend Tony (Harlem Yu) manages to land him a job at a major perfume company, working as personal assistant to dragon lady boss Mandy (Rene Liu). Unfortunately, the well paid new position comes with a major catch, namely that Minguo has to pretend that he isn’t married, while keeping this a secret from his loving and ever so slightly clingy wife Jingyi (Bai Bing). Matters are further complicated when he starts getting a little too close and familiar with Mandy, and temptation rears its ugly head.
“Mr. and Ms. Single” is very much along the lines of other recent modern Chinese urban dramas and romances, boasting a markedly flashy look and filled with expensive lifestyle trappings and people trying to get rich while falling in love. Although it’s Kong’s first Mainland film, it doesn’t have too different a feel from his usual Hong Kong efforts, and if anything his having not written the script is somewhat of a benefit, allowing him to put all his energies into directing. Perhaps as a result, the film is arguably his slickest to date, and is certainly his most expensive looking, with some top notch production values and a fun, bouncy pace that keeps things amiable throughout, despite some pretty glaring product placement (sadly now pretty much par for the course).
To the film’s credit, it retains the meat of the play by trying to explore a few serious relationship issues, in particular jealousy, honesty and deception, and does so in a fairly even handed manner, never shying away from or being judgemental about the fact that sometimes people have to put up with awkward situations and employ devious tactics in order to get ahead. In this respect, the film is pleasingly different to many other romances, neither paying all that much attention to Minguo’s marriage nor to his possible budding affair with Mandy, and instead focusing on his many trials and tribulations as he tries to keep the first job he has ever found himself any good at. Unsurprisingly, this provides the film with most of its comedy, with lots of gags revolving around misunderstandings and farcical incompetence, all of which are in general quite funny, with a few neatly designed wacky set-pieces. This definitely helps when it comes to the last act slide into melodrama, though Kong wisely prevents the film from ever taking itself too seriously.
The film’s greatest asset is undoubtedly its fine cast, who lift the material up several notches from its basic broad strokes. Eason Chan in particular is good value as the bumbling Minguo, turning in a charismatic performance as a good hearted buffoon who it’s genuinely hard not to like or feel sorry for as his life gets ever more complicated. Rene Liu is also on good form, playing things straight while spending most of the film looking like she wants to hit someone, but still managing to add a little depth to her predictable role as the icy boss with a troubled heart. Kong squeezes decent mileage out of the rest of the cast, who are mainly on hand for comic relief, and this too goes some way to making the film an enjoyable piece of fluff.
This pretty much sums up “Mr. and Ms. Single”, as whilst never challenging or particularly deep, it stands as a perfectly acceptable and entertaining piece of genre cinema. Representing somewhat of an advancement for Kong, it should keep his fans happy until his next rom-com comes around, and has plenty to offer audiences looking for a pleasant all star popcorn vehicle.
Patrick Kong (director) / Ha Zhichao, Ru Xiaoguo (screenplay)
CAST: Bing Bai … Jingyi
Eason Chan … Cui Minguo
Allen Lin …
Rene Liu … Mandy
Harlem Yu … Tony