Final Romance (願望樹)

After pairing up for Gen Y Cops, one of the greatest disaster movies ever – in that the movie was…a disaster, director/producer Benny Chan and actor/singer/photographer Edison Chen team up once more in the name of art. Instead of robots, explosions, and Paul Rudd, however, this time they opt for something a bit more subdued. The result is a simple, if dull, exercise in teenage romance, though at times it tries to be a little more.

A somewhat sympathetic Edison leads the mismatched cast that includes steely award winner Simon Yam, model and non-Chinese speaker Amanda Strang, offbeat character actor Sam Lee, and occasional TVB actress Cindy Au. Thankfully they don’t all converge at once thus allowing the film to get off to a respectable start. Rich girl Jean (Strang) arrives in snowy Japan against her father’s wishes and nursing a serious heart condition. She’s there to deliver her deceased sister’s ashes to her boyfriend but does not realize that he too has prematurely kicked the can. In his stead is brother Dik (Chen), a lowly car mechanic, who is also toting an urn of his brother’s ashes. The two experience some obligatory run-ins and misunderstandings before discovering each other’s identity, thus paving the way for an engrossing adventure in teen idol love.

Or so it would seem. Despite some obvious clichés to exploit – forbidden romance, heart disease, absent parents, the story completely stalls upon the characters’ return home. The initial hesitancy between Jean and Dik, though plodding, was at least reflected in the quiet of the mountainous Japanese landscape. However, framed against a nondescript Hong Kong, which in this movie consists of a car garage and Jean’s villa, their lingering attraction dissolves into something tedious. Dik’s unwelcoming encounters with Jean’s daddy and the estate gatekeepers coupled with her resignation at an impending wedding with her own cardiac surgeon have the energy of a dead sloth. Even their chatty best friends largely disappear, taking most of the dialogue with them. Director Alan Mak stretches what should have been a 10 minute sequence into an exhausting 80 and fills the extra time with repetitive and inconsequential shots of the somber couple, and some street racing. Yes, it seems that Mak, occasionally bored by the teen romance, was simultaneously trying to inject some energy into the picture, storyboard for Initial D (which he would later direct), and audition Edison for that same movie. And although the idle pacing may have been an attempt to mirror both the couple’s longing and the emotional distance between Jean and her father and fiancé, the story and characters remain too static to hold one’s attention for the length of the film. The same is true for Jean’s heart problems, probably meant to be a metaphor for her relationships except that she is so inert that we forget to care.

The overall situation is not helped by the so-called actors. While Amanda Strang’s expressionless face may impress on the catwalk, she’s an energy vampire onscreen. Edison Chen, meanwhile, succeeds in looking less smug, so count that as a victory. He tries his hardest to be that simple dude who just wants the hot chick to “ride in [his] car” but mostly sticks to what he does best – smirk, snarl, and generally look sullen. The remainder of the cast put in the standard paycheck performances, but it’s doubtful a better effort would have lifted this movie beyond the teenage masses. If anything rescues the film, it’s the occasional piano refrains and the washed out blue-gray cinematography of the Japan scenes that quietly draw the viewer into Jean and Dik’s relationship. But the sparsity of the story, and acting, is a bit like watching falling snow – beautiful at times but also numbingly dull.

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