All You Need Is Love (Luo pao ba ai qing)
Taiwan/Hong Kong (2015) Dirs. Richie Jen & Andy Luo
Sorry Beatles fans, this has nothing to do with their flower power anthem from 1967. Instead, this is the directorial debut from Taiwanese heartthrob Richie Jen, who also co-wrote the script, provided some of the music and presumably made the tea as well.
Wealthy heiress Yeh Fen-fen (Shu Qi) has had enough of her restrictive life in China’s affluent Shanxi Province and flees for the fabled Penghu Coves her deceased parents use to tell romantic stories about. When she arrives in Penghu, she finds that the alluring B&B she booked on the internet is in fact a small one man operation run by modest islander Wu Si-shan (Richie Jen).
Being the snooty type, Fen reluctantly stays one night at the B&B until Wu can take her to a mainland hotel, but on the boat ride, the engine dies and Fen falls into the water along with her belongings. Now she has to stay with Wu but soon the sea air and easy lifestyle begins to agree with Fen, as does being with Wu.
It is hard to imagine but it actually took SEVEN people to come up with the screenplay for this undemanding rom-com – including Jen and Shu Qi – from a story by Lin Chin-he and Virginia Liu, the latter also one of the seven. Ordinarily this would be a case of too many cooks, but with no original ideas presented here at all, a few more cooks would have been welcomed!
Of course sometimes it is possible to get away with an all too familiar, cliché-ridden story if those stalwart ingredients are used properly or have some kind of fresh to them. While that fresh spin is not on the menu, the handling of the hackneyed ingredients is competent enough to keep this film from being washed away with the tide. Just.
So, if you have your rom-com checklist at the ready, let’s run through what you’ll find in this film. Snooty rich city girl – check. Simple islander boy – check. Fish out of water comedy – check. Rich girl acclimatises to her surroundings – check. Boy and girl bond – check. Girl gets jealous when boy attracts attention elsewhere – check. Romance finally blossoms but neither will admit it – check.
There’s more of course but you’ve no doubt already figured out what they are and can finish off the story in your own head. Outside of a surprise open ending, I’m sure whatever you concocted is correct – this writer predicted the outcome before the five minute mark, it is made THAT obvious from the start.
While it is easy to pour such scorn on the paucity of original ideas and material, there is a pervasive sense of disappointment in how two big names in Jen and Qi are involved in something so lightweight and unchallenging. Perhaps that was the appeal of this film – Qi has just come off playing the eponymous emotionless lead in the wu xia arthouse hit The Assassin, while Jen has done his fair share of crime thrillers and action flicks.
Honestly, after seeing the sun drenched setting of Penghu with its clear blue waters and inviting beaches we’d all probably accept a working holiday at this idyllic location regardless of how fey the script is. And if this film achieves anything, it is to promote this glorious archipelago to potential holidaymakers.
Which brings us back to the story, as Mosquito Island, the small islet where this takes place, is not doing the trade it should, so the island chief Dong (Jiu Kung) posted the misleading brochure entry for Wu’s B&B to attract more visitors. The theme of money troubles is a prevalent one and predictably creates an initial gulf between Wu and Fen as their philosophies about wealth are naturally opposite.
Elsewhere Wu’s younger brother Si-fu (Lego Li) becomes estranged from the family when their father (Ti Lung) kicks out of the home because his ideas to boost trade in conjunction with Dong fall flat and sends their business into arrears. Of course Fen could solve their money worries but she has now adapted to their way of life and begins to learn the value of hard work over entitlement.
The comedy is wildly predictable, the only charm coming from the ebullient cast of characters who make up the local community. Serving as the supposed centrepiece for such shenanigans is the arrival of a TV dating show to the island, in which four nubile and glam young ladies are expected to find love among the locals. No surprises who is selected as the nominal top prize.
Yet the biggest problem with the script is the breakdown of the plot developments. For example, it takes Fen roughly 20 minutes to warm to her new surroundings, the actual transition covered in a two minute montage; a major crisis to validate the romantic feelings comes far too early and is dismissed almost immediately; and too much vital information or exposition is thrown in when required and not built up in anyway.
In other words this is the equivalent of piling a three course meal onto a plate without letting the diner see the menu first. With the many years experience of the cast, surely they could have guided this team of inexperienced writers into how to properly structure a script? Apparently not.
Even if picky people like me are distracted by such unforgiveable shortcomings for a professional project, the cast seem oblivious to this and just have fun. Richie Jen may be 50 but can still pass for 35, while Shu Qi is stunningly elegant in every scene, gamely letting herself run with the silliness, providing the emotional weight when needed.
But, for all the glaring faults, niggles, predictability and banality of it all, All You Need Is Love is an amiable, light and breezy Sunday afternoon film which you can easily lose yourself in and not have to worry about engaging your brain.