You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘You Are My Sunshine’

Huang Xiaoming and Mini Yang star in this ineffectual but popular adaptation of Gu Man's Web novel.

Huang Xiaoming, Mini Yang, Angelababy, Tong Dawei, Joan Chen, Yao Anlian, Tao, Hsieh Yi-lin, He Sui, Liu Tianzuo, Shao Hua, Eric Tsang. (Mandarin, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4657764/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

A tortuous, tawdry pulp romance set in Shanghai and San Francisco and strung out over 10 years, “You Are My Sunshine” feels like a puzzle with half the pieces missing. The film’s mainland Chinese co-helmers — TV journeyman Yang Wenjun and A-list artist-manager Ronald Huang — demonstrate little grasp of cinematic technique or artistic taste here, while leads Huang Xiaoming and Mini Yang generate less chemistry than two strangers trapped in an elevator. Still, the avid popularity of Gu Man’s online source novel and its TV drama spinoff have kept this bigscreen adaptation blazing bright at the domestic B.O., where it’s earned about $45.2 million in a week. As the film will barely make sense to anyone who’s not a die-hard fan of the franchise, overseas prospects are much cloudier.

Viewers who’ve seen Guo Jingming’s “Tiny Times,” China’s most lucrative novel-to-screen phenomenon, may wonder if they’ve slipped back into the same artificially gilded and emotionally vacant world — no surprise, since both films are rolled out by Le Vision Pictures and sport the same upscale look manufactured by Taiwanese stylist Rosalie Huang and lenser Randy Che. “You Are My Sunshine” even stars “Tiny Times” heroine Mini Yang, once again playing a flaky, simpering woman-child who thrives on the abuse of powerful men, with the flamboyant best friend again played by Hsieh Yi-lin.

With a rags-to-riches segment set in California where Tong Dawei plays a budding IT entrepreneur, the film also tries to appropriate crowdpleasing elements from “American Dreams in China,” which paired Tong with Huang. While the film lacks anything resembling its own identity, its runaway success indicates that mainland viewers still haven’t grown tired of college nostalgia, or glossy productions with a melodramatic/lifestyle-magazine sensibility. (The film enjoyed 33% of screening slots on opening day, while arthouse offerings like Wang Xiaoshuai’s “Red Amnesia” and Sylvia Chang’s “Murmur of the Hearts” were squeezed with only 1%.)

The Chinese title, from Gu’s Web fiction, translates as “Why are the flutes and sheng (Chinese reed instrument) silent?” — an homage to a famous verse in 1930s romantic poet Hsu Chih-mo’s “On Leaving Cambridge.” Try as it might to evoke the bittersweet experience of a couple who can’t stop breaking and making up, the film fails to convince audiences of why they love each other so much.

On a 2005 ferry boat to Alcatraz, Chinese student Mosheng (Yang) illegally solicits tourists to get their photos taken by her. Before there’s time to say “cheesy,” the time frame leaps ahead to 2015, and she’s back in her native Shanghai. Amazingly, knowing how to handle a Polaroid camera was enough to land her a career as fashion photographer for the city’s most chic style magazine.

At a supermarket, she runs into old flame Yichen (Huang), now a hotshot corporate lawyer. When she sees him dating his foster sister Yimei (Angelababy), it throws her into such a tizzy that she knocks over a mountain of merchandise. As in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the sight of a femme tripping over herself proves more arousing than any plunging neckline, leading to the first of many electrifying stare-downs. Again and again, they bump into each other — or rather, he stalks her, howls at her for leaving him seven years ago, and overpowers her with his embraces.

Already poorly developed on an emotional level, the film further disrupts its own momentum and sequential logic with a series of flashbacks tracing how the couple first met in college in 2002. There’s really nothing off-the-wall about their romantic shenanigans other than oodles of ickiness, epitomized by Mosheng force-feeding Yichen durian candy (just because in Chinese, the malodorous fruit puns with “lingering love”).

From there, the yarn becomes an all-out potboiler, revealing shady connections between Yichen’s deceased parents and Mosheng’s mayor dad, Zhao Qingyuan (Yao Anlian), and stepmother, Madame Pei (Joan Chen). For a while the film generates some suspense, raising the question of whether Yichen might be forced to choose between love and revenge, but the dramatic arc ultimately flatlines. The appearance of Mosheng’s ex-husband, Ying Hui (Tong, still speaking awful English), raises expectations of love-triangle shenanigans, but it turns out to be just an excuse to recount Ying and Mosheng’s hipster life in sunny California. The denouement and epilogue leave many loose ends dangling, but few will care.

The performances don’t benefit much from the crudeness of the characterizations. Yichen exhibits bipolar traits, flying into a rage one moment, breaking down in tears the next; by turns starchy and weirdly menacing, Huang keeps you guessing as to whether he’ll kiss Mosheng or hit her. Flapping about saucer-eyed, Mini Yang strains to convince as a ditzy babe. As Yichen’s intern-cum-personal-bartender, Tao (formerly of Korean boy band EXO) cultivates a metrosexual image copied from Japanese manga “The Black Butler,” to gratuitous effect. Hsieh phones in her perf as the bossy bestie, a role she’s repeated ad nauseum in every mainland romantic comedy she’s done.

Of the pedestrian tech credits, most grating is the indiscriminate backlighting, which cloaks faces in a yellowish brightness; some shots are held so long they morph into freeze-frame. Music provides an overdose of Jimmie Davies’ iconic song (supposedly Mosheng’s favorite), while the sound mix is muddled and deafening.

Film Review: 'You Are My Sunshine'

Reviewed at UA KK Mall, Shenzhen, China April 30, 2015. Running time: 107 MIN. (Original title: "He yi sheng xiao mo")

Production: (China) A Le Vision Pictures (in China), Guangdong Dadi Theatre Circuit Co., Shanghai Film Group East Movie Distribution Co., Guangzhou Jinyizhujiang Movie Circuit Co., Golden Harvest Entertainment Co., Yaolai Entertainment Media Co., CMG Lumiere Pavilions release of a Le Vision Pictures (Beijing) Co., Beijing Weimiao Culture Media Co. Shanghai Weimao Film & Broadcast Culture Co., Haining Jiaxing Tianxia Entertainment Co. presentation of a Beijing Haibu Yangbo Entertainment Co. production. (International sales: Le Vision Pictures, Beijing.) Produced by Zhang Zhao. Executive producers, Huang Xiaoming, Ronald Huang. Co-executive producers, Liu Jun, Weili.

Crew: Directed by Ronald Huang, Yang Wenjun. Screenplay, Li Yongqun, Jia Jiawei, Mo Feile, based on the novel by Gu Man. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Randy Che; editor, Cheung Ka-fai; music, Nathan Wong; music supervisor, Gao Xiaosong; production designer/art director, Rosalie Huang; set decorator, Qin Feng; costume designer, Rosalie Huang; visual effects supervisor, Earl Ricks; assistant director, Huang Chun.

With: Huang Xiaoming, Mini Yang, Angelababy, Tong Dawei, Joan Chen, Yao Anlian, Tao, Hsieh Yi-lin, He Sui, Liu Tianzuo, Shao Hua, Eric Tsang. (Mandarin, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild, Hollywood Agents Negotiate With Deadline Looming

    The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made. The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Fox Layoffs Leave Staffers Stunned and Saddened

    Fox employees knew this day was coming. For over a year, the men and women who work at the Century City lot have talked of little else but severance packages and job searches. They knew that when Disney wrapped up its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets, thousands [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Disney Clarifies Film Leadership After Harrowing Day of Fox Layoffs

    Following the dismissal of top executives in distribution, marketing and strategy on Thursday, new 20th Century Fox owner Disney has clarified its new top leadership. Five distinct Fox labels and a portion of their leadership have been welcomed into the Disney fold, the company said. This includes Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Family, Fox Searchlight Pictures, [...]

  • Janelle Monae

    Film News Roundup: Janelle Monae to Star in Film From Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

    In today’s film news roundup, Janelle Monae will star in a Lionsgate movie, Bill Nighy joins “Emma,” and documentaries on surfer Bethany Hamilton and Asbury Park are dated. CASTINGS More Reviews Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud' Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise' Janelle Monae will star in an untitled Lionsgate movie directed by the [...]

  • Blair Rich Marketing Summit

    Studio Marketing Chiefs Discuss the Theatrical vs. Netflix Oscars Debate

    On a day where a large part of the Fox marketing department was wiped out in the aftermath of the Disney merger, a group of marketing chiefs from other studios and streamers sat down at the Variety Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte “to discuss the issues shaping the feature marketing landscape today, including the theatrical [...]

  • Paul Feig Heads to Universal From

    Paul Feig's Feigco Entertainment Jumps From Fox to First-Look Deal at Universal

    Universal’s comedy constellation just added another star, welcoming Paul Feig from 20th Century Fox Film on Thursday. Universal has set a first-look production agreement with Feig’s Feigco Entertainment, bringing in the prolific producer, writer, and director known for hits like “Bridesmaids” and the recent “A Simple Favor.” More Reviews Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud' Off [...]

  • The Fault in Our Stars

    Disney Retiring Fox 2000 Label

    Disney will stop making films under the Fox 2000 label, a move that could mean that its head Elizabeth Gabler will not be making the move to the Magic Kingdom, Variety has learned. The decision is surprising because Disney had previously stated that Gabler would stay on board at the studio even after it was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content