The Mainland film industry is eager to show off the country’s wealth and worldliness through high end fashion (e.g. Esquire Runway, Sleepless Fashion), and My Beautiful Kingdom is another notch to that totem. Though it sounds like a movie about My Little Ponies romping about a magical fairy land, it is instead a behind-the-scenes look at the modeling industry.
At least it purports to be. Fans expecting FHM cover girls Chrissie Chau and Gong Xinliang to recreate photo spreads will be disappointed, and while fashion shows bookend the film, there ends up being precious little insight into life on the catwalk. Instead, My Beautiful Kingdom turns out to be a misleadingly grand title for a routine drama about friendship.
Best buddies Ruotong (Chau), Xiaoyi (Gong), and Yizhi (Gu Xuan) head to Beijing to make it big in the modeling world but face constant setbacks after they get there. Xiaoyi ends up with more jobs but her career has stalled thanks to her alcoholic manager (Cheng Jun). Since helping supermodel Li Jieling (Jade Lin) catapult to stardom, he’s lost his touch and doesn’t seem to grasp Xiaoyi’s desperation.
Luckily for Ruotong, a stint as a banana mascot leads her to Kelvin (Jiro Wang), a PR manager and Jieling’s boyfriend. Her cheerful demeanor and strong work ethic win him over, and he proposes that she model for a new campaign he is running. The clients are pleased, his coworkers are impressed, and he and Ruotong flirt with the idea of a romance. But several people aren’t content with this new professional and possibly personal coupling. Jieling, who had been distant in her relationship, now wants her boyfriend back, and Xiaoyi tries to mask her jealousy with icy smiles. Before long, Ruotong’s career risks fizzling out before it’s even really begun.
The same can be said about this movie, which is not so bad as it is dull. It is held together by a coherent plot that moves along logically if predictably and filled with characters who behave in a similar manner. It is nothing more than a pearly string a clichés, but even these are done without dazzle. For a film about modeling, there is not much to look at, except for the stars who remain modestly dressed.
The movie wastes a great opportunity show off its location shoots as well. The opening credits paint Beijing with twinkling golden lights but then does nothing to display the city’s glamour. Likewise, a Parisian adventure gets jazzed up, at best, by whatever’s the video equivalent of an Instagram filter. In one scene, two characters argue in front of the Louvre Pyramid in the dead of the night. It’s an attempt to flaunt the film’s budget and ambition but only serves to emphasize an artistic deficit, and the Pyramid is reduced to a nonsensical prop amidst an inky backdrop.
Nor do the actors do much to add emotion and excitement to the film. Chrissie Chau proves that she has a sweet smile but also confirms that her talents lie outside of acting. The blandness she brings to her character is matched by her costar, Wang, so at least they make a balanced couple. Even Chen Han-Tien, who can be instantly likable in the most average films, leaves little impression here as Kelvin’s friend Penghai. The only character given some emotional heft is Xiaoyi, and Gong has the pleading look of a woman who understands the fickle nature of her business. Like most of the cast, however, she is not strong enough an actress to give more form to a mediocre part.
Prod: Zhao Guangxin 赵广忻
Dir: Mak Wing-Lun 麥詠麟
Writer: Xin Yuanzi 辛苑子
Cast: Jiro Wang 汪東城; Chrissie Chau 周秀娜; Chen Han-Tien 陳漢典; Gong Xinliang 鞏新亮; Gu Xuan 顾璇; Cheng Jun 程俊; Jade Lin 林菀; Wang Xiang’en 王翔恩; Benji 班傑
Time: 87 min
Lang: Mandarin, very poorly dubbed
Country: Mainland China