A Beijing love story for the pop psychology savvy generation raised on self-help books, “Waiting Alone” provides honest laughter and touching moments as it invades the modern romantic comedy turf of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. The strength of the cross-cultural influences are probably due to the fact that frosh writer-director Dayyan Eng, whose impressive second short, “Bus 44,” played Cannes Directors’ Fortnight two years ago, is a Taiwan-born Chinese who studied film at Washington U. before transferring to Beijing Film Academy. Script’s warmth and humor give it specialized chances beyond the usual Chinese-language markets of China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Recovering from a failed romance, Chen Wen (Xia Yu, from “Shadow Magic,” “Electric Shadows”) takes advice from friends and family about getting laid or getting loved, depending on their interests in life. Amid this barrage of counseling, Chen is focused on Liu Rong (Li Bingbing), a flaky actress who flirts with him constantly but is looking for a man — any man — who can further her career.
Sitting behind the counter of the antique store he owns in Beijing, Chen tries making money writing ghost stories. (A horror insert early on gives an impressive demo of both the character’s scribbling and helmer Eng’s versatility.) As well as providing a convenient place for characters to drop in and chat with Chen, the antique store is also the source of an amusing running gag about selling Hong Kong star Chow Yun-fat’s underwear.
Eng tells his yarn about the cons of singledom with compassion and good-humor, providing insights both tried-and-true and original. One observation about the ludicrousness of nightclubs provides pic with one of its funniest scenes, raising surprise that this piece of wisdom has never been articulated before.
However, at almost two hours, running time is too long; by the penultimate scene, film feels like an entertaining dinner guest who doesn’t realize his hosts are tired. Still, a strong joke rounds the movie off and auds with a knowledge of Hong Kong movies will leave cinema with a joyous bang.
All thesps show good comic timing, and Xia is especially good as the lovelorn Chen. Appearing in virtually every scene, he’s handsome enough to be easy on the eye but not so physically perfect that his character’s more nebbish moments are unbelievable. Gong Beibi also impresses as a smart, hip girl who’s Chen’s amorous blind spot.
Lensing by Oz d.p. Toby Oliver (“Looking for Alibrandi,” “Tom White”), in his first Asian assignment, is of high quality, as are all other tech credits.