CONTRACT LOVER (Romantic comedy in Cantonese)
Cast: Richie Jen, Fan Bing Bing, Yuen Wah and Kate Tsui
Director: Alfred Cheung
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? As soon as you learn what "Contract Lover" is about, you can safely predict how it will turn out. Its plot, about some guy hiring a girl to pose as his girlfriend to rile up his conservative parents so that she could be rejected in favour of his real girlfriend, is such a cliched romantic comedy set-up that everything seems to go according to formula.
The most recent flick based on this kind of plot was "The Wedding Date" (2005) which was shown in Malaysia both in the cinemas and on Astro last year – to lukewarm reviews. "Contract Lover" has ‘cinema fodder’ written all over it and it is doubtful that it would generate much business here and abroad. ‘Cinema fodder’, for the uninitiated, are B-grade quickie efforts produced to generate work for the studios and to ‘feed’ the cinemas.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? "Contract Lover" is the story of Fok Kai Fatt (Richie Jen), a Beijing businessman who is pressured by his family to get married as soon as possible. Fatt is afraid that his girlfriend Rachel (Kate Tsui) is too Westernised to be accepted by his tradition-minded father (Yuen Wah, as a martial arts teacher), so he hires Jo Lau (Fan Bingbing) to pose as his fiancee and meet his family in their village home. The plan is to get Jo to shock his father with her ‘wild and modern’ behaviour so that he would reject her and settle for Rachel instead.
HIGHS & LOWS: Of course, it is mandatory of all romantic comedies that nothing would go as planned – and you can guess the outcome. However, for such a plot to work, there must be chemistry between the leads, as well as a certain amount of hilarity in the proceedings. You can write off the first requirement as Richie Jen and Fan Bingbing are not only mismatched, they are also miscast. Richie has only two stock expressions to offer – looking bewildered and going ‘hmm?’ and brooding in silence. Bingbing is pretty, period. Together, they are as romantic as a dog and a cat – and even act as such. Yuen Wah (of "Kungfu Hustle" fame) does nothing to ‘energise’ this movie.
As for its attempts at humour, the gags are mostly lame and tame, involving a comedy of errors (as when Fatt’s aunt imagines what she believes are bedroom noises) and a clash of cultures (as when the frumpy aunt tries pole-dancing). Gay humour seem to be a must for Hong Kong comedies these days, and here we have some comic relief provided by an ‘American’ friend of Jo who accompanies her to the family home. This provides a love-triangle subplot among Fatt’s sister, the American and a kungfu student who is in love with the sister.
THE LOWDOWN: Only for fans of Fan Bingbing and Richie Jen.