Love @ First Note (戀愛初歌)

If you enjoyed Nine Girls and a Ghost, then Love @ First Note will be the height of cinematic excellence. For everyone else, it’s just like an EEG picture – but with less attractive people. Seriously kidding, folks. I joke because I love. I’m actually a big fan of both Kary Ng and Justin Lo and freely confess to owning their CDs, and this DVD. That doesn’t mean that I think the resident talents of Gold Label should be making movies though. In what seems like an excuse to take on the EEG powerhouse, Paco Wong (Gold Label’s supreme agent/manager) lobs the kitchen sink in Albert Yeung’s (EEG’s big man) direction. Not only does he stuff the picture with Alex Fong, Justin Lo, and all 4 Mini Cookies, he also makes room for cameos by Leo Ku and George Lam, who records under parent company EMI. (Leo Ku has since jumped ship to EEG.) Now that’s talent. Alas, he seems to have forgotten to include a story and acting lessons with that package. Luckily this won’t affect the target audience.

Ms. Ng and Mr. Lo share screen time as neighborhood buddies Kristy and Kei who are confused about life and love. Both have ‘troubled’ single parent homes; Kristy’s Lam Suet dad spends his days drinking and rolling around in bed since his wife died while Justin’s mom is a lowly seamstress getting yelled at by the rich ladies on the block. The two use music and each other’s company as an escape, thus setting us up for adolescent love triangles and a full-length soundtrack. As the story unfolds, Kei grows increasingly attached to his childhood friend while Kristy, for reasons unknowable to the thinking masses, harbors a secret crush on supposed stud Tony Wong (Alex Fong). Because really, who wouldn’t be impressed by someone who wears a white sports coat and scavenges for used Barry Manilow vinyls?

And so the movie goes. Kei loves Kristy, Kristy loves Tony, and Tony loves his daddy’s black card. It’s all rather generic and forgettable, which is why it doesn’t really matter that Stephy and Theresa (co-Cookies) make brief appearances as major bitches out to spoil Kristy’s fun or that a wannabe gangsta who sings Cantopop love ballads steals songs and tries to hit on our combat boot-wearing heroine. For consistency’s sake, Miki pops up randomly because she’s also a Mini Cookie and that makes 4. Much like her role in the music group, however, she serves zero purpose.

All this makes for an awkward movie, not because teenage love is awkward, but because the whole film moves like a sluggish dress rehearsal. At places, the rhythm of the scene is broken by actors waiting to hit the beat. The script also has an unfinished feel to it, as if they accidentally used the first draft as the shooting script. Little happens because the characters require it but because it’s necessary for the plot to reach a concluding point. The actors, if they may be called that, don’t help the situation, though their subdued underacting is far more palatable than the histrionics usually on display in teen movies. That Kary Ng doesn’t whine, squeak, or look like she’s been dipped in Sanrio allows her to be a far more sympathetic lead. Her performance has a certain charm and honesty but one that fails to save the dull script and lackluster direction. Justin Lo, meanwhile, appears in his first movie, and it shows. His list of faux pas ranges from the forgivable (excessive smiling) to the criminal (pairing a Yankees cap with a Red Sox shirt). At the end of the day, the movie brings nothing to the genre, but there are worse ways to waste an afternoon – you could watch Nine Girls and a Ghost.