Scratching beneath the surface of “No More Applause” won’t yield many hidden depths, but what meets the eye is a warmly entertaining Eastern spin on a contempo comedy of tangled relationships. One of the past year’s mightiest B.O. performers on its home turf, this engagingly played Chinese item should provide appetizing fodder for specialized tube programmers scouting upbeat international product.
Center stage is the rocky marriage of Xiao (Gai Xiaoling), a classical flautist struggling in a pop-saturated market, to Li (Xie Yuan), a brilliant engineer reduced to working as a guard in the Forbidden City. Career frustration and mutual resentment lead to divorce proceedings, but the Beijing housing shortage forces the couple to continue sharing the same apartment.
Partly to rile Xiao, Li brings home an unsophisticated hick (Ding Jiali) whose main interest is finding an alternative to living with her in-laws. Xiao refuses to be baited, however, solicitously playing hostess instead, and retaliating by encouraging the attentions of an infatuated ex-schoolmate (Fang Zige).
Amusingly decked out in universally familiar foibles, the quartet’s finely etched characterizations and briskly timed comic interplay are well tuned to the script’s jocular run of conflicts. Absence of any underlying punch becomes a shortcoming only when the characters each face their own sense of resignation. The conclusions they reach lack the poignancy required to cap off their romantic wanderings.
Xia Gang (whose “Letting Go” was 1992’s biggest draw at Chinese wickets) directs with a light touch, letting the actors dominate and not tampering with the structural formula for such fare. Technically, the same efficient but largely by-the-numbers approach is also on view.