Heart-wrenching romantic melodrama meets fast-paced thriller with rousingly entertaining results in “Love and the City.” Ace Hong Kong helmer Jeff Lau (who shares a production company with rising cult director Wong Kar-Wai and specializes in a more commercial flip side to his partner’s work) tosses in ingredients of shameless schmaltz, comedy, gangster violence and father-son conflict with a liberal hand, concocting a light but tasty stir-fry that looks ready for festival play and even more ready for a Hollywood remake.
Released from prison, angry young rebel Wu (Leon Lai) skulks home to his widowed father (Ng Mang-tat). Flashbacks reveal Pa’s failure to defend Wu during his early childhood, resulting in the boy’s loss of faith in him, and a subsequent history of juvenile delinquency. The bridge is further widened by his father’s current plans to remarry, and the potential obstacle created by Wu’s return.
Wu’s nihilistic pursuit of idle distraction leads him to JoJo (Wu Chien-lian) , a sleek mobster’s girl who’s every bit his match in the thrill-seeking stakes. But a few stolen moments together reveal a much deeper affinity between the two. This is momentarily interrupted when Wu takes a beating from JoJo’s b.f.’s flunkies and is instructed to keep away from her.
Trouble gets cranked up back home with Pa when the daughter of his intended bride determines to bust up the match by throwing herself at Wu and calling it attempted rape. More strife follows when the now-besotted Wu steps out for a clandestine meeting with JoJo and stumbles onto a murder scene. Accused of the crime and imprisoned, Wu escapes and makes a continually thwarted beeline for JoJo, while his father catches on to the boy’s innocence and sets about righting a few wrongs.
Lau deftly orchestrates a busy series of complications, with cops in relentless pursuit and a volley of factors conspiring to keep the lovers apart. Amusingly, the nosy phone operators at Jo-Jo’s message service angle to get the pair back together, and despite its cornball excesses, the soaring final act is truly touching.
Thesps are terrific, especially handsome pop star Lai and Wu Chien-lian (the young airline exec from “Eat Drink Man Woman”), who bring a real jittery desperation to their fleeting clinches. Technically, the film is also sharp, with lenser Arthur Wong creating a potent atmosphere during the many blue-hued night sequences.