Review: ‘Chinaman’

According to "Chinaman," the trick with love is never knowing <I>how</I> to say you're sorry. Cliched plot posits a Danish plumber who agrees to wed a Chinese woman for cash, even though neither speaks a word of the other's lingo. Wouldn't you know it, they fall for each other anyway. Sugary sweet tone of first half gives way to sour, would-be tragic finale that may leave a bad taste in the mouth for some auds, especially femmes, although some addicted to the romantic equivalent of MSG might savor this. Pic opens domestically in early April.

According to “Chinaman,” the trick with love is never knowing how to say you’re sorry. Cliched plot posits a Danish plumber who agrees to wed a Chinese woman for cash, even though neither speaks a word of the other’s lingo. Wouldn’t you know it, they fall for each other anyway. Sugary sweet tone of first half gives way to sour, would-be tragic finale that may leave a bad taste in the mouth for some auds, especially femmes, although some addicted to the romantic equivalent of MSG might savor this. Pic opens domestically in early April.

Hulking Keld Decker (Bjarne Henriksen) looks little more than befuddled when Rie (Charlotte Fich), his wife of 25 years, leaves him. With his business on the rocks, he sells off nearly all his possessions, and starts eating atthe Chinese take-out restaurant across the road, methodically working his way through the menu.

Gregarious owner Feng (Lin Kun Wu) soon proposes a more appetizing dish: $8,000 to marry his fresh-off-the-boat sister Ling (Vivian Wu), so she can stay in Denmark. After seeing the beautiful Ling wafting around the restaurant’s back rooms in a selection of colorful cheongsams, and with a settlement to pay to his ex, Keld agrees.

Script by prolific Danish screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson (“Accused”) strains to persuade its Asian characters aren’t just exotic stereotypes (Feng’s son Zhang is into hip hop music and speaks fluent Danish, for instance). And blossoming love between Keld and Ling feels little more than just a Western man’s mail-order-bride fantasy come true. Ling gets a chance to prove her feisty credentials with a burst of untranslated invective when the couple have their only argument, but otherwise, Keld’s reasons for loving her seem to boil down to the fact she’s beautiful, cooks well, keeps the house tidy, and doesn’t demand much emotionally from him like Rie did.

Even auds who can swallow pic’s shopworn set-up and accept this is more “Green Card” than “The Wedding Banquet” are likely to balk at a desperate third act that throws a miscalculated curveball by killing off a major character suffering from — get this — a heart that’s just too big.

Plus points include a spirited perf from intercontinental thesp Wu (“The Pillow Book”), who manages to make Ling more than just a cute China doll. Poker-faced Henriksen has a bland presence as Keld. The rest of the Asian cast is spirited, but hasn’t much to do. Helming by Henrik Ruben Genz (“Someone Like Hodder”) lacks passion.

Tech package is adequate without offering anything outstanding.

Chinaman

Denmark

Production

A Fine & Mellow Prods. production, in association with Maipo A/S, Svensk Filmindustri AB, Danish Film Institute, DRTV Danish Broadcasting Corp., Nordisk Film, Swedish Film Institute, Norsk Filmfond, Nordic Film & Television Fund, with assistance from the Chinese Co-production Corp., the Shanghai Film Group Corp., the Shanghai Film Studio. (International sales: Nordisk, Copenhagen.) Produced by Thomas Gammeltoft. Executive producers, Thomas Gammeltoft, Dag Alveberg, Johan Mardell. Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz. Screenplay, Kim Fupz Aakeson.

Crew

Camera (color), Sebastian Blenkov; editor, Mette Zeruneith; music, Gisle Kverndokk; production designer, Niels Sejer; sound (Dolby Digital), Rune Palving. Reviewed at Gothenburg Film Festival (Nordic Event), Feb. 5, 2005. (Also at European Film Market, Berlin.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Bjarne Henriksen, Vivian Wu, Lin Kun Wu, Charlotte Fich, Paw Henriksen, Johan Rabaeus, Chapper. Danish, Mandarin dialogue.
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