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Love on the Cloud
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by Jay Seaver

"A split personality, but both facets are at least entertaining."
3 stars

There's a potentially great movie-industry satire inside "Love on the Cloud", wrapped in a layer of romantic comedy just thick enough that a viewer will likely wonder whether director Gu Chang-wei and company are doing for something very clever or are the victims of the very thing they are attempting to send up. The film is pulling itself in so many different directions that I can't begin to guess which scenario is the case, which is a bummer, because it manages a lot of smiles when things line up.

It opens with three young would-be filmmakers relatively new to Beijing pitching their movie Living with the Werewolf to potential investor Ms. Ma (Heidi Wong) - writer Sha Guo (Michael Chen), cinematographer Ma Dai (Cao Lu), and director/star Huang Xiaogang (Edward Zhang). She likes it, but she'd like it a little more (and be willing to invest correspondingly) if her company Little Bull Beef's product could somehow be integrated into the plot. That means it's rewriting time for Sha Guo, who also gets a message on the Wechat app from Chen Xi (Angelababy), a gorgeous model who saw that the guy with the Shar-pei dog as an avatar also lives in Beijing's trendy Shuanjing neighborhood, and soon has roped him into looking after her Shar-pei Mo Chou even as he quickly falls for her despite having progressively more outlandish rewrites to keep him busy.

One of those requests involves creating a part for one of China's most popular actors where none previously existed, and I wonder if this may have happened in real life: The thing that moves much of the story along is how this movie is becoming less and less like what the "Three Dreamers" imagined while the promised budget inflates with each new demand, and that's about the guys... And yet there's Angelababy, credited first but popping in and out of what is really Michael Chen's picture. There's also a weird diversion into another genre that happens just as Ms. Ma requests such a thing. Gu and company do this stuff without much in the way of winking at the audience (or at least, none that makes its way from Mandarin to English via the subtitles), and it's admittedly impressive that they're able to reflect their jokes about things which ruin movies in such a dry manner without them actually ruining the movie.

And "dry" might be in the eye of the beholder at times - there are roughly a dozen cameo appearances in the movie per the opening credits, but I only caught the two or three where Gu really had the cast ram it home (and one where the weird non-sequiter nature of the scene had me figuring that this must be what's going on even if I didn't get the whole joke). Individual scenes are also frantic in their pacing at times, with fast-forward gags as Sha Guo writes, cameras swooping through Shuanjing and clubs as if to say "isn't youth just so exciting?", and cinematic flights of fancy referencing movies from silents to Bollywood. It's often quite funny, but it gets downright weird at times, even before considering how the romantic comedy portion of the movie sometimes shifts fast enough to give the audience whiplash.

That part of the movie still works, though, in large part because Michael Chen and Angelababy seldom step far wrong even when the screenplay does. There's a dorky charm to Chen's Sha Guo that's likable without being smooth or affectedly eccentric - indeed, he tends to stumble a bit when asked to play weird - and he handles the line between being genuinely hurt by Chen Xi's not fully reciprocating Sha Guo's feelings and a guy who thinks he's owed affection better than most. Angelababy's Chen Xi is a fun leading lady as well; she plays the character with confidence and a sly sense of humor that doesn't require her to be either an ingenue or pushy. As a pair, they've got a nice spark and a ready chemistry that does not have to be romantic to work.

There's fun supporting people around them too, most notably Heidi Wong, who starts Ms. Ma off as somewhat stern but manages to get funnier as her part of the movie becomes more absurd without necessarily making the character herself look completely silly or unbelievable. Edward Zhang has what is ultimately a somewhat darker character than the typical romantic comedy buddy and handles the full gamut of Xiaogang's arc well. And Mo Chou is a great animal buddy.

It's a tricky business, being the thing you're poking fun at, and "Love on the Cloud" has a few moments where it's too clever for its own good. At least its self-referential and sincere sides aren't usually working against each other, because while that might have made for sharper satire, it might not have been as entertaining a movie as a whole.

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originally posted: 12/25/14 15:35:46
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Directed by
  Chang-wei Gu

Written by

  Michael Chen
  Edward Zhang
  Heidi Wong
  Lu Cao

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