“The Road Less Travelled” sees top Hong Kong director Derek Yee taking the producer’s chair for a follow up of sorts to his much lauded 2003 romantic drama “Lost in Time”. This time, he hands over the directorial reigns to co-scripter Derek Chiu (“Brothers”), for a tale of cross border love and tragedy focusing on a truck driver played by popular actor Louis Koo (“All’s Well End’s Well 2011”), who ends up in a triangle with a young Mainland woman played by Crystal Huang (“Just Another Pandora’s Box”) and his Hong Kong girlfriend Karen Mok (“Go Lala Go!”). Backing them is an impressive supporting cast including TVB star Wayne Lai (“I Love Hong Kong”), Mainland actors Yin Xiaotian (“My Belle Boss”), Liang Dawei, and Baty Chen.
The drama is set in motion when Hong Kong cross border truck driver Hui Shing Leung (Louis Koo) accidently hits and kills a man one night while on his way to Guangzhou. His pain and guilt are made all the worse when he learns that the man’s wife Lu Yin (Crystal Huang) is pregnant and struggling to make ends meet with the restaurant they owned. Much to the frustration of his long term Hong Kong girlfriend Susan (Karen Mok), he gives the grieving widow a sizable chunk of their savings, and starts hanging around the restaurant and helping out. Although feelings inevitably start to blossom between the two, everything threatens to fall apart when Lu Yin discovers that he is the man who killed her husband.
Unsurprisingly, the first word which springs to mind with “The Road Less Travelled” is ‘bittersweet’. Thankfully, the film is a melancholy affair rather than a tacky tearjerker, with Derek Yee and Derek Chiu aiming for a more humanistic approach which takes on board cultural as well as emotional issues in dealing with its characters. As a result, though the film doesn’t make for cheerful viewing, it engages on a more basic and genuine level than if it had tugged too hard at the heartstrings. This is even more so since the main characters are all basically good people, with Leung in particular being a decent, kind hearted man who never plans to insinuate himself into Yin’s life or to cause any pain for Susan. The script emphasises a sense of fate both regarding the accident and in bringing people together, and does so in a reasonably convincing manner, without sudden hysterics or emotional fireworks.
Though deliberately paced, the film is never dull, and has a fair amount of dramatic tension, with Leung’s secret festering away in the background, the viewer only too aware that it is a matter of time before Yin learns of his true identity. This of course leads to a great deal of guilt and angst, though wisely the revelation isn’t saved for a sudden last act plot twist, and the decision to work it out earlier on sets the stage for the film to conclude in far more interesting fashion.
Fortunately for such a character based drama, the film is boosted by good performances all round. Crystal Huang and Karen Mok in particular are impressive as the two very different women coming to terms with the changes that the accident has wrought on their lives. Both are interesting, conflicted figures, and the one scene that they share together is possibly the film’s best and most telling. Louis Koo also does a perfectly respectable job, his awkward Mandarin fitting the character perfectly, and though he isn’t called upon to provide much range, he does successfully manage to convey a sense of inner turmoil. The fine cast carry the film, lifting the script above a few weaker moments, and make it far more than the television movie of the week melodrama that it might have been with lesser talent involved.
Chiu’s direction is suitably subdued, and the film strives for an everyday, down to earth feel. It generally succeeds in this regard, though thankfully without being excessively gritty, and it does have some nice visuals in the rural Mainland sections, with lots of shots of rolling green fields. The film also features a lot of cooking, with Hong Kong and Mainland dishes serving to further the theme of exploring the differences between the two cultures. This is central to the film as a whole, and Chiu and Yee do make a few interesting observations, though their somewhat negative portrayal of materialistic Hong Kong residents does feel a touch like pandering to the Mainland market at times.
Despite this, “The Road Less Travelled” is one of the better character dramas to have come from Hong Kong over the last year or so, and one of the few not to pile on the obvious melodrama. A worthy follow up to “Lost in Time”, it works for mainly the same reasons, and successfully mixes the bitter and the sweet whilst trying to say something at the same time.
Sung Kee Chiu (director) / Kin Chung Chan, Sung Kee Chiu (screenplay)
CAST: Yi Huang … Lu Yin
Louis Koo … Hui Shing Leung
Karen Mok … Susan