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Serious in Seattle

2013-03-28 13:15:03        Global Times
An affair, a lesbian, getting pregnant by a married man and traveling abroad to give birth - these sensitive social issues could easily be turned into a serious art film, expressing the bitterness of love and the hardship of being a single mother.

Luckily, writer and director Xue Xiaolu chose to merge these themes into a romantic comedy.

Her latest film Finding Mr Right, which earned 70 million yuan ($11.3 million) in its debut weekend, might not be a box-office hit like Lost in Thailand, but it's definitely on the top 10 list of the most popular entertainment topics this week.

Protagonist Wen Jiajia, played by Tang Wei (Lust, Caution) has a rich, married lover. After Wen gets pregnant, she is without a job and unable to get a birth permit in Beijing. Her lover sends her to Seattle, where she meets a driver named Frank, played by Wu Xiubo. Frank is a former doctor who gave up his job in Beijing in support of his now ex-wife's career. The end is pretty much as everyone would expect: They fall in love.

Most Chinese romantic comedies are targeting audiences in their 20s, a time when love is pure, sweet and full of roses.

Finding Mr Right comes with a more complex background. Wen's life in an illegal maternity center in Seattle and her relationships with other women there is a key part of the story. Frank is also trying to hide the facts about his divorce from his teenage¬¬ daughter. Both leading roles carry many kinds of pressures, quite a change from most romantic comedies seen in China recently. At the same time, the film satisfies the young audience by adding some familiar stereotypes and avoiding too much lecturing.

Gao Yuanzhi, a film critic, told the Global Times in a phone interview Tuesday that the main target audience for the majority of Chinese movies is relatively young.

"Selling gay humor, like many British comedies, is not something that could be accepted by our parents," he said, "but that's what Mr Right and many upcoming stories have started to do."

Xue, an associate professor at Beijing Film Academy and an experienced scriptwriter for the films Ocean Heaven (2010) and Together (2002), kept the idea of genre in mind when creating the story. All the laughs and sentimental moments match elements seen in a typical Hollywood chick flick.

On the other hand, since the plot follows the audience's expectations all the way through, comedy and surprises become more important.

Unlike Love is not Blind, where hilarious lines play a crucial part in the story, most of Mr Right's humor relies on the actors' performances such as a policewoman's Northeast China dialect or a sissy wedding dress seller's dramatic way of talking.

"The film lacks a consistent tone like Groundhog Day (1993) or When Harry Met Sally (1989), both of which kept a sense of humor throughout the movie. Mr Rightis more like a combination of several short sketches that put different emotions together. But it does offer some cute surprises," said Gao.

A number of Chinese movies in recent years appear to have based their structure and genre elements on Hollywood examples. Among which, the enormously successful ones such as Lost on Journey (2010) and Lost in Thailand (2012) are stories that have a solid and realistic Chinese background.

Small and middle budget comedies that are imbued with Chinese peculiarities are what the market is favoring now. And with regard to its subject matter and plot elements, Mr Right is "very Chinese."

The clever part of the story is that, although it is dealing with sensitive social issues, it avoids showing the married man or his wife and makes the materialistic young woman change into a hardworking independent mother.

"Having someone care enough to buy you soymilk and fried bread sticks matters more than a French dinner on a yacht. That's the value this movie is selling," said Gao.

As a nod to one of the most successful films in the genre, Sleepless in Seattle (1993) is mentioned many times in the film, and even the Empire State Building plays a key role.

As a typical romantic comedy, Finding Mr Right has nothing really new. But the mix of sensitive Chinese social issues and delightful moments is way above average for domestic entries in the market.

Plus, with all the posters displayed in subways and at bus stops, it's obvious Xue didn't forget another lesson from Hollywood - if you want a picture to sell, don't neglect the marketing.

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