A superstar and his erstwhile fan develop a high-concept romance when thrown together in an inn two-and-a-half miles above sea level in Johnnie To’s gorgeous-looking escapist meller “Romancing in Thin Air,” the Hong Kong helmer’s follow-up to last year’s similarly mainland-targeted “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Still overwrought but less calculated than the earlier effort, the pic’s should enjoy respectable returns in Greater China given its skedded pre-Valentine’s Day release and the A-list leads’ cozy chemistry. Offshore, To’s action or arthouse fans won’t be holding their collective breath.
Michael hits the bottle, and has the unlikely coincidence of tumbling into the back of a truck bound for the Himalayas, where Shangri-la is mythically located. At Deep Woods Hotel, he is nursed back to health by owner Sue (Sammi Cheng) and the local doctor (Tien Niu). Michael discovers that although Sue is absorbed with mourning her husband, Tian (Li Guangjie), who disappeared into the nearby forest seven years ago, she has been a closet fan of his. In fact, a flashback reveals a parallel romance in which Michael was instrumental in bringing Tian and Sue together. The last time Cheng and Koo toplined a film was nine years ago, in the 2003 romantic comedy “Love for All Seasons,” which To directed with Wai Ka-fai. The two films play like sister pieces: Both establish love as a process of rehabilitation, concluding that hearts must be broken as a prelude to embracing life, and both take risks with florid plotting that requires indulgent suspension of disbelief. While “Love” gets by on throwaway humor and a consistently light tone, “Romancing” strikes a more somber and philosophical note, reinforced by pseudo-profound motifs, like using high-altitude disease and the forest as metaphors for the hazards of plunging into a relationship. This puts considerable onus on the thesps to make their already farfetched behavior convincing. The leads acquit themselves well in scenes with each other, conveying the rapport of affectionate platonic friends rather than the heat of passionate lovers, which makes sense, since each is still wounded by their most recent relationship. Perfs are also more subdued, reflecting a subtle distinction from the animated pitch customary for Hong Kong romances. Cheng is less at ease when paired with mainland thesp Li, whose gormless country-lad role feels bogus and idealized; Wang’s pure-hearted miner, meanwhile, borders on a snarky parody of his “World Without Thieves” screen image as a noble idiot.