Boyish superstar Andy Lau and pop singer Sammi Cheng make wonderful screen chemistry in “Needing You…,” a mismatched romantic comedy that shows producer-director Johnnie To and his Milkyway team leaving behind the offbeat crimers with which they made their name internationally in recent years. Core of the story — likable ditz and businessman boss fall for each other — is little different from hundreds of other Hong Kong movies from the past decade, but good performances and a well-worked script give the movie a freshness that’s appealing.
Historically, this genre rarely travels far from East Asia, though oriental-friendly fests should give it a spin on entertainment value alone. Released in June, it has easily become Hong Kong’s top-grossing Chinese movie of the year so far, with a stunning HK$35 million ($4.5 million) take that also beat out all non-local fare except, narrowly, “M:I2” ($4.6 million). Two months later, the same team tried to repeat the success with the hospital black comedy “Help!!!” — but the uneven result managed only a respectable $1.5 million.
Cheng has been relatively little used by the local film industry, despite showing considerable range in Lee Lik-chee’s 1997 comedy, “Killing Me Tenderly,” opposite the wooden Leon Lai. Here she creates an impression from the get-go as the seriously weird Kinki Kwok who’s transferred to the department of super-salesman Andy Cheung (Lau) on the day her boyfriend dumps her.
Losing it in the office, she’s given a month’s notice by the hard-driven Andy, but events soon conspire to throw the two together during a business trip in China.
The funny-sad love story stumbles along with neither acknowledging the mutual attraction: Andy’s ex (Fiona Leung) turns up and starts making waves in his direction again, and Kinki appears to fall for a dot.com rich kid (Raymond Wong). Meanwhile, a rival salesman (Lam Suet) is planning Andy’s demise in cahoots with the firm’s overall boss (Hui Siu-hung).
To and scripter-helmer Wai Ka-fai (“Too Many Ways to Be No. 1”) have worked together on many Milkyway movies, and their contributions, as well as those of behind-camera talent (including regulars like composer Cacine Wong and d.p. Cheng Siu-keung), blend seamlessly.
Touches like Kinki’s comically dysfunctional family, and Andy’s culinary liking for bull’s pizzle, are typically offbeat, and the way in which supporting characters are sharply drawn also steers the pic away from being just a star-duo vehicle.