A writer of downbeat romances gets his comeuppance in the often pretentious, but frequently tongue-in-chic, "Love Story." Directed by former Singaporean critic Kelvin Tong for Hong Kong Focus Films' pan-Asian digital series, pic reveals few traces of the island state, playing instead like a gentle parody of "Chung King Express" and its many imitators.

A writer of downbeat romances gets his comeuppance in the often pretentious, but frequently tongue-in-chic, “Love Story.” Directed by former Singaporean critic Kelvin Tong for Hong Kong Focus Films’ pan-Asian digital series, pic reveals few traces of the island state, playing instead like a gentle parody of “Chung King Express” and its many imitators. Auds may balk at the arty opening reels, but pic’s light-hearted tone encourages perseverance and visuals successfully intrigue. Limited release in Singapore in May drew moderate biz.

An unnamed, successful romance writer (Allen Lin) draws heavily on his real-life entanglements for inspiration. A 30-minute long, pre-titles sequence details two of his books/relationships.

The first depicts a strange liaison between the writer and a ninja-masked theater usher (Tracy Tan), who constantly recites the text of a banned book. Deliberately avoiding facial features, Tong concentrates on the objects that connect the lovers (library books, theater tickets, etc.), rather than the couple themselves.

With the writer’s voiceover namedropping Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as the butterfly-contemplating philosopher Zhuang Zi, opening minutes create the impression of an intellectual game.

A stronger sense of fun (and narrative) comes courtesy of the second romance, with female cop PC 136 (Erica Lee). While trying to solve the murders of two writers, the sexy PC takes pleasure in leaving her man handcuffed to the bed, and rattling off witty retorts to his complaints.

After pic’s belated main titles, the abstract atmosphere gives way to a steadier tone, reflecting the author’s real, more mundane life. However, when a librarian (Evelyn Tan) commits suicide after reading the novel inspired by her seduction, the writer is hurled into a nightclub netherworld where love has consequences.

Helmer Tong clearly enjoys himself with theatrical techniques and playful framing: Shots through glass tabletops and brass bed frames are the norm. Unfortunately, these visual shenanigans undermine the story’s serious aspirations. Pic lacks commitment to either comedy or tragedy and is too off-balance to juggle both.

Lin gives a deliberately unsympathetic perf as the writer, while Singaporean Lee has a joyful field day as the handcuff-happy cop. Other perfs are OK but unable to break through the script’s unemotional wall. Digital lensing is delightfully crisp.

Love Story

Hong Kong-Singapore

Production

A Focus Films presentation of a Focus: First Cuts Movie (Hong Kong)/Boku Films (Singapore) production. (International sales: Focus, H.K.) Produced by Leon Tong. Executive producer, Daniel Yu. Directed by Kelvin Tong. Screenplay, Tong, Yeo Lay-leng.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Chiu Wai-yin; editor, Derek Ho; music, Joe Ng; art director, Daniel Lim; sound (Dolby Digital), Yu Wah-hoi; associate producers, Lorna Tee, Elliot Tong. Reviewed at Cinefan Film Festival (Asian Competition), New Delhi, India, July 20, 2006. (Also in Locarno Film Festival -- Filmmakers of the Present, competing.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Allen Lin, Tracy Tan, Erica Lee, Evelyn Tan, Amanda Ling, Benjamin Heng, Ben Yeung. (Mandarin dialogue)
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