If You Are the One Review
If Zhang Yimou is recognised internationally as the king of Chinese cinema, then Feng Xiaogang is quickly becoming the heir to the throne. For years he’s been making seasonal comedies that have garnered critical and financial success in his native country, but outside of Asia his profile has been particularly low key. This has gradually been turned around in the last five years as Feng has switched towards more action fuelled films like A World without Thieves and the big-budget Shakespearean fantasy film The Banquet, which brought Feng the attention of mainstream international audiences. His 2007 hit Assembly - the Chinese Saving Private Ryan - built on that status, the story of the Chinese Civil War had not been done on that kind of scale before and it has cemented Feng internationally as a force on the international scene. So with all eyes firmly on him, how does Feng follow up on Assembly? By returning to what he knows best.
If You Are Not the One tells the story of Qin Fen, a middle-aged dreamer who has invented a product that revolutionises the game of Rock-paper-scissors, and has netted him a cool two million pounds for the production rights. With his financial future now secured, Fen decides it’s time to settle down and take a wife, but finding the right mate isn’t easy for a bald middle-aged man who has particular ideals about his future. After a couple of disastrous encounters he meets Smiley, a withdrawn beauty, still pining for a lover who has recently broken her heart. Realising they’re not each other’s type, Fen and Smiley go to a nearby restaurant for a drink and frank exchange where each reveal the demons of their past, and at the end of the night they go their separate ways. Fen returns to dating an endless stream of unsuitable women, Smiley goes back to her job as an Air Stewardess, but when Fen checks in as a passenger on one of her flight - along with the married man who she longs for – they reignite an uneasy friendship that may promise to fill the void in both their lives.
I must admit I’m not very familiar with Feng Xiaogang’s work, I’ve been meaning to catch A World without Thieves and The Banquet for some time now but have yet to do so, Assembly I did catch and was impressed by its scope and humanistic approach. As for Feng’s early comedies, I know next to nothing about them, so was coming into If You Are the One as a completely fresh viewer. I came out of it with a positive opinion of Feng as a comedy writer and filmmaker, his wit is spry and understated.
The art of the conversation is a difficult one, if it goes on too long it can affect narrative drive and bog a film down, if the subject isn’t engaging or witty, or meaningful, then worrying about the length of the conversation is the least of your concerns. In the grand tradition of Billy Wilder, If You Are the One is a conversation driven comedy, it flits through a series of long discussions like it’s the simplest and most natural thing in the world. Feng manages to keep these scenarios invigorating by giving his characters playful affectations and keeping the tone of the film as slightly tongue-in-cheek, without descending into parody.
Despite a frothy tone, there’s an underlying sad longing that gently drives the dramatics. Fen and Smiley’s relationship is not unlike that of CC Baxter and Fran Kubelik in The Apartment, he’s falling for the girl but she is in love with a man she can never be with. This creates a natural tension within the story, and an air of uneasiness between the characters that is delicately traversed by Feng without affecting the unassuming charm of the film. Through Fen’s numerous discourses with Smiley and the other women he meets via an online dating agency, If You Are the One examines the romantic and identity issues affecting middle aged men and young women in contemporary Chinese society. This might sound rather alienating to western viewers, but the themes of these discussions are pretty much universal.
The entire premise of If You Are the One rests on the characterisation of Qin Fen, an intrinsically likeable idealist who is under no illusions about his shortcomings, but still can’t help trying to shoot for the moon. He’s earnest, but with enough scruples to have a real-world non-judgemental charm, the kind of person who makes an excellent, lifelong friend. Smiley's a more convoluted soul, a melancholy damsel-in-distress who cannot forsake her emotions despite needing to rely on Fen’s friendship to help her do just that. Both leads are excellent in their roles; they imbue their characters with an innate accessibility whilst also maintaining a darker emotional edge. Ge You proves to be an extremely charismatic romantic lead despite his unlikely appearance, and Shu Qi proves why character-driven filmmakers continue to seek her out.
If there’s any criticism to be made of If You Are the One, it’s that at just over 2hours it suffers from a slight internal imbalance. So much time is spent on Qin Fen’s emotional journey in the opening and middle acts that when it comes time for Smiley’s character arc to be developed more in the final act, Feng almost seems to run out of time, resulting in a symbolic gesture and convenient result that creates an epiphany that seems rushed to achieve a specific ending. Still, I can forgive Feng a closing contrivance or two when he leaves me with a great big smile on my face.
PresentationTai Seng are keeping very busy importing HK Blu-rays over the pacific for US consumers. This time they’ve repackaged the Mega Star HK release: A rather barebones region free BD-25 disc.
Presented in 1080p at 2.35:1 with an AVC encode, If You Are the One has that pristine lool that has become synonymous with the HD format. Grain is kept to a bare minimum, and while the image isn’t super-sharp it has a satisfactory level of detail without relying on intrusive sharpening. If there’s any DNR in action I would say it’s pretty minor. Contrast and brightness levels are nicely balanced, brightness can dip a little low at times and so can black levels, but shadow detail is very good. Skintones are very natural, colours are rich and nicely graded; there’s no bleed but chroma noise is regularly present in regions of deep colour – particularly reds. This is because MegaStar have crammed a 125minute film on a BD-25 disc, with a low video bitrate that averages out to 18Mbps, which isn’t enough really.
Three audio options are available: Mandarin Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Mandarin DD5.1, and Cantonese DD5.1. A 7.1 TrueHD track is complete overkill on a dialogue driven film such as this one, so all you need to know is that it’s expressive when it needs to be, has solid bass, and reproduces dialogue with pleasing depth whilst maintaining clarity throughout. The mix favours the centre front centre channel quite heavily, using the front stereo and surround channels rather subtly for environmental effects or to bolster the soundtrack.
The Mandarin DD5.1 track is near identical, maybe fractionally less refined. The Cantonese dub completely drowns out the rest of the audio on the Cantonese DD5.1 track.
Optional subtitles for the feature are: English, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified).