The market is open for another round of trading in “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2,” director Johnnie To’s sequel to his hit 2011 romantic comedy about a handful of Hong Kong One Percenters who swap romantic allegiances with the same manic brio with which they buy and sell shares of Fortune 500 companies. And much like the first time, the results are as cheerfully silly as they are compulsively watchable, despite the somewhat disappointing decision to keep one of the series’ most appealing stars (Daniel Wu) sidelined on the mainland for much of the running time. Opening Nov. 11 in China, this Media Asia release should perform well at the local box office (where the prior pic earned $16 million), with offshore prospects mostly limited to Chinese-language cable and video buyers.
Whenever To, the undisputed master of the modern Hong Kong gangster drama, turns his attention to lighter fare (like this, or 2012’s sudser “Romancing in Thin Air”), it’s like watching a great baseball pitcher warming up in the bullpen: perfect form and follow-through minus any real sizzle. In the first “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” that meant an intricately constructed bubblegum farce about Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan), a rising young financial analyst on H.K.’s Wall Street, who found herself juggling the affections of caddish, rock-climbing CEO Shen-Ran (Louis Koo) and loyal, ice-hockey-playing architect/chef Qihong (Wu), eventually settling for the latter when the former proved fatally unable to curb his horndog ways. (Well, that and the fact that Qihong designed an entire building for her.) For the sequel, To takes us forward a year to the eve of Zixin and Qihong’s nuptials, but with Qihong away in Suzhou on a building site and a disconsolate Shen-Ran back on the prowl, it’s not long before trouble begins to stir again in this lovers’ paradise.
Scripted by original scribes Wai Ka-fai and Ryker Chan (here joined by To’s “Blind Detective” and “Drug War” collaborator Yu Xi), the movie sets up a couple of new characters in the form of Zixin’s brother Paul (the puppy-doggish Vic Chou), newly returned from studies in France, and the amusingly named Yang Yang Yang (Miriam Yeung), a noted investment doyenne dubbed the “Goddess of Stocks.” Early on, when Zixin meet-cutes Yang on the street, she begs her for a job, which (after a few complications) she lands, only to discover that the Goddess’ offices sit directly across from Shen-Ran’s own new company. Thus the stage is set for another round of “Rear Window” courtship antics involving Post-It-note emoticons, magic routines and assorted bodily contortions.
Indeed, there’s nary a joke or a plot twist from the first film that To doesn’t revisit here with self-referential glee, right down to the introduction of a claivoyant octopus that stands in for the previous film’s ill-fated pet toad. (Shy of this summer’s “22 Jump Street,” it’s hard to imagine another sequel more cheekily self-aware of being a sequel.) But true to its numerical appendage, this “Don’t” also doubles the ante, giving us not one but two women on the verge of a romantic breakdown, each torn between two rival suitors. And because one of those suitors is himself torn between the two women in question … well, romantic triangle (or even rectangle) doesn’t quite begin to describe it.
Though he’s still hung up on Zixin, Shen-Ran nevertheless starts dating Yang, who doesn’t initially realize that her b.f.’s ex-lover and her own new employee are one and the same. But it doesn’t take Yang nearly so long to learn about Shen-Ran’s wandering eye (the character is once again prone to libido-induced nosebleeds), and no sooner is he in the doghouse than Paul appears on the scene to sweep Yang off her feet (and on to his yacht). He, of course, conveniently forgets to mention that he’s Zixin’s brother. And round and round — and round some more — they go, the mistaken identities piling up faster than the body counts in To’s balletically violent action pics.
In easily the movie’s most riotous sequence, Hurricane Sandy’s grounding of all U.S.-bound air traffic from Hong Kong results in Shen-Ran’s multiple flight-attendant mistresses all showing up at his office simultaneously — a door-slamming scramble that somehow ends in electric shock and a food fight. Lubitsch or Hawks could have scarcely improved upon it. To be sure, To has learned a lot from Hollywood’s golden-age “comedies of remarriage,” except that his paper-thin protagonists change their romantic minds so often (and with such little prompting) that, by the end, it seems almost random who chooses to end up with whom. But oh, what an ending it is: a chaotic race to the altar that plays like a cross between “The Graduate” (complete with soundalike Simon-and-Garfunkel score) and a mountaineering melodrama.
Nothing makes a terrible amount of sense here, including why any of these women would believe that perpetually shame-faced Shen-Ran will ever learn to keep it in his pants. But taken on its own loopy terms, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2” can be a marvel, as To keeps his manic movers and shakers colliding and ricocheting in ever more elaborate permutations. True love, if it even exists in To’s universe, is forever out of reach, just like a good parking space for one’s Ferrari or Maserati — the perils of fast-paced urban living in a nutshell.
Longtime To second unit d.p. To Hung Mo steps up to chief lenser duties here and gives things a suitably glossy, magazine-spread sheen. Again stealing each and every one of his scenes out from under the (very capable) leads is frequent To sideman Lam Suet as Shen-Ran’s swishy, forever put-upon man Friday.