Love may or may not be Taiwanese director Doze Niu’s answer to Love Actually, but it certainly plays that way. A crowded, multi-narrative picture that explores the ups and downs of love, it’s an elegantly packaged affair, much like that Rowan Atkinson number in Richard Curtis’s film. Niu corrals eight of Taiwan’s biggest, most beautiful stars, which includes himself and technically an actress from the Mainland, and sets them against a chic, cosmopolitan backdrop. It’s high gloss and vibrant hues all around, but if the glamour and good looks of its mostly young stars work to pull in its audience, they do little to heighten the drama; this is a movie first about polish and then about plot.
One of the more challenging situations involves someone heaving himself into a septic tank to prove his devotion to his girlfriend. Otherwise, there are few truly hard decisions to be made here, and the storylines tend towards the garden variety. An actress (Shu Qi) is arm candy for a director (Niu) but finds herself most at peace with a stuttering waiter (Ethan Ruan). He is brother to a cyclist (Ivy Chen) who’s just discovered she’s pregnant by her best friend’s (Amber Kuo) other half (Eddie Peng). The friend is daughter of the director, which brings us back to the actress, who is just ending an affair with an uptight businessman (Mark Chao). His inability to love is tested when he meets an estate agent and plucky single mother (Vicki Zhao) in Beijing.
There’s a real struggle between Chen and Kuo’s characters to do the right thing, once they figure out what that is, and the two actresses dig at the uncertainty that comes with abandoning oneself to love. Peng, however, flops around a bit looking hapless, a guise most of the actors here seem to adopt. Though they have proven their talent elsewhere, they are only as competent as their stories and Niu never really pushes his characters far enough.
Chao, for example, increasingly lays bare his vulnerabilities but never quite closes the emotional gulf between his character and the audience. It’s as if the messiness of despair and heartache just might overpower his tailored image, and so he holds back. The same is true for Shu Qi. Zhao flirts around a little more; her character is a harried woman more concerned with shuttling between her job and her son’s school than making sure every strand of hair is pinned in place. The only character that doesn’t seem to mind being immersed in the swill is a police officer (Wang Jingchun) who gets tangled in Chao and Zhao’s storyline. He has the benefit of not having to look like an Armani ad and comes off more human, and humorous, because of it.
“Love” (愛) theme song by Hebe Tien:
Prod: Doze Niu 紐承澤; Wang Zhonglei 王中磊
Dir: Doze Niu 紐承澤
Writer: Doze Niu 紐承澤; Tseng Lei-Ting 曾莉婷; Wang Qinan 汪啓楠
Cast: Vicki Zhao 趙薇; Mark Chao 趙又廷; Shu Qi 舒淇; Doze Niu 紐承澤; Ivy Chen 陳意涵; Ethan Ruan 阮經天; Eddie Peng 彭于晏; Amber Kuo 郭采潔; Wang Jingchun 王景春; Lin Muran 林沐然
Time: 127 min