I was "this" close to turning off "If You Are The One" about half an hour into the film. However, experience tells me I'll never be able to revisit a film once it has been abandoned this way, and since this is a Shu Qi film, I kind of needed to stay with it and watch it till the end.
I'm so glad I did.
After 40 minutes and 6 disappointing blind dates with our lead characters we finally get to the good stuff. It starts almost inconspicuously with a scene where Qin Fen accidentally overhears a phone conversation as he's heading for the airport. He realizes that he'll be on the same flight as both Smiley, her lover, and her lover's wife! A very interesting set-up!
Now, the film doesn't get all that much out of the drama that follows, to be honest, but the scene clearly draws a line in the sand. Up to this point all we had was a pair of romantically challenged characters that share two good scenes (their first and second date), and some fairly boring filler material, but suddenly we have something more. A connection begins to form between the two leads. We begin to realize where the film is heading. Shu Qi is not just phoning in an extended cameo that relies on nothing more than her looks. Ge You is not simply playing a dirty old man looking for a hot young thing. This film is trying to say something fundamental about love. I can't judge whether it succeeds on a universal level, I can merely say, it worked for me.
One scene in particular really took my breath away (small spoiler, jump to the next paragraph to avoid). It's the scene where Smiley finally agrees to "go steady" with Qin Fen and eventually marry him. She says she'll be faithful with her body, that she'll do everything a wife is supposed to do, but that he's got to let her save a little space in her heart for the guy she can't have. She won't act on it, she won't call him, but every now and then she'll miss him a little and grow a little distant. Most guys would probably take that deal, just for the chance to be with a girl like Shu Qi, but would that be the right choice? Could you really live like that, when you think about it? What kind of love would that be?
This is really good drama. It's a fantastic dilemma that most of us can relate to, in one way or another.
The only real problem I have with the film is that first act of the story. I'm not sure how it could have been fixed. Perhaps this sequence should have been played for laughs, exaggerated to the point of absurdity, to put a smile of our faces, before the film went for the gut punch. Perhaps it should simply have been cut down to a bare minimum. As it stands now it is nothing more than a long line of talking head scenes, with no dynamic whatsoever, it slows the film down, and as I mentioned earlier almost made me turn it off.
Actually I'm being a little unfair to the film. The two dates between Qin Fen and Smiley actually work extremely well, and when I re-watched them on their own in preparation for this review I was able to appreciate them even more. The problem is that they are sandwiched in between 30 minutes of largely useless scenes that could have been handled more elegantly in a montage.
Another thing that should definitely have been cut is a rather useless subplot in which Qin Fen attempts to sell a device to prevent people from cheating in "Rock, Paper, Scissors"! No, you read that right. Such scenes are appropriate in a comedy, but this film is no comedy.
Shu Qi is absolute perfection here. She's given every chance to flex her acting muscles and she uses it. Actually the film doesn't really begin until Shu Qi enters the scene, and I'm not saying that because I'm biased. The sadness that engulfs the film and makes it worthwhile doesn't really arrive at the scene until she does. Smiley's emotional baggage drives the film towards the dark side, the place where it becomes truly interesting.
Shu Qi nails the part with a wonderfully melancholic performance. She adopts that "abandoned, wounded animal"-look so effortlessly, but it's not just a mask, it's a truly penetrating act that influences every moment of her performance. Watch the details of her acting during that second date, where she ponders love and attraction between the sexes. Anyone, who dares to claim that Shu Qi is a model who got lucky, should be forced to watch this scene on repeat until they break down.
The film's lead Ge You also does a decent job. The opening scenes take a toll on his character and it makes him seem less committed than Shu Qi, but later he gets to shine too. The look of a man who has ended up with a girl far beyond his reach, and doesn't quite know how to deal with it, is painted so clearly on the face of Ge You in some of the scenes. "Where did all the simple and sane women go?" he complains, and every guy watching this film will know what he means. His confession during the second date is also a stunning and truly committed piece of acting that stays with you for a while.
At 125 minutes this was never just going to be a little romantic comedy, and to be fair it was never marketed as such, which makes the unsophisticated first act all the more puzzling. Some of the subjects this film tackles along the way and some of the darkness it embraces, pushes it into a completely different territory, and I loved every second of that journey. So much so that I can forgive the fact that the film doesn't really work for the first 40 minutes.
"If You Are The One" will challenge you intellectually and emotionally. It will leave you with a heavy heart, and perhaps a tear in the corner of your eye. Which is exactly how you'll want to be left by a romantic drama....