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Ex Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back
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by Jay Seaver

"No need to see the first, either way you count it."
3 stars

As far as I can tell, the first "Qian Ren" ("Ex Files") didn't have any sort of official release in North America when it came out last year, but that probably doesn't much matter - though I would find this sequel familiar for other reasons, it appears to be a sequel in that it takes a supporting character from the first movie and drops him into a new situation and cast. It's a funny one, although I know for a fact that it could be funnier.

This time up, we follow Yi Ze (Amber Kuo Cai-jie), a longtime assistant director working for a company that makes television commercials, although seven years ago she was working as a production assistant on a singing competition who helped a goofy-looking contestant get his application in after the deadline when he showed her a little unexpected kindness. He won, and now, seven years later, after several hit albums and a transition to acting, Yu Fei (Ryan Zheng Kai) is starring in an ad for the company. He even remembers Yi Ze, pushing for her to have more authority during the shoot, to the point where she basically directs it herself, and they wind up spending the night together after. He's forgotten about her soon enough, though, and after she takes the fall for the necessity of reshoots, she meets up with "Master Tian" (Eric Wang Chuan-jun), who runs a noodle shop, tells fortunes, and gives her both a makeover and a playing-hard-to-get game plan to regain Yu Fei's interest.

Yu Fei is the character that carries over from the first, where I gather he was already some sort of celebrity, based upon the audience laughing at the geeky "seven-years-ago" version of the character (or maybe that's just a brief moment of Zheng playing well against type). Aside from him, most of this movie's screenplay comes from a Korean movie, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, although writer/director Tian Yu-sheng has tossed out some of the funniest bits (the hilarious clips from the titular VHS tapes, the way its equivalent of Yu Fei blows way past envious to positively unhinged) and grafted on a subplot for the second half that highlights a weird sort of protagonist shift. It's not a bad screenplay, all told, but it makes the whole thing a more basic exercise in table-turning than something genuinely creative.

There's a bit of "cooler before" to Amber Kuo's Yi Ze, too - though not deliberately and exaggeratedly mousy like her Korean counterpart, she's cute and very funny in those early scenes. It's not as if she becomes any less appealing later on, although once Yi Ze has acclimated to her sleeker, more professional new look, she goes from being the person who is doing funny stuff in a scene to doing reaction shots. She's good at that, too - it's a delicate balance to play Yi Ze as fully aware of what sort of tease she's being without making it seem malicious - but as she becomes more confident and respected at work while clearly having the upper hand with Yu Fei, there are far fewer chances for her to get laughs from being goofy when drunk or surprising at work.

So Ryan Zheng is charged with picking up that baton, and he thankfully does not disappoint. As much as Yu Fei has moments early on where he's an aggressive creep, he's mostly just too macho for his own good, and Zheng has fun diving into it. As Yi Ze becomes more sure of herself, he gets to act more frustrated and react to increasingly bizarre situations, and he does so with enthusiasm, going bigger and funnier as the film goes on, but managing to keep just enough humanity injected (even if some of it is done in a heavy-handed way) that the last act which frames him as the romantic hero of the piece isn't out of line.

And while they may not be getting all of the best material from the original, Tian Yu-sheng does keep the funny bits coming at a decent clip, and the filmmakers have put together an amusing group of supporting characters around them. He also comes up with a decent idea toward the end, playing Yu Fei's need to lip-sync in a concert against Yi Ze's deception, something which maybe should have come up earlier, especially if since that's about when we start following him more than her.

It's an amusing little romantic comedy, and I'd maybe like it more if I hadn't seen "How to Use Guys" already. It's not quite as good as that parent, and I can't speak for the other side of the family - although with the closing credits promising a third entry in 2016, the series apparently has some fans in China - but it does what it sets out to do well enough for an evening out.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29864&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/08/15 07:45:12
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USA
  06-Nov-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  06-Nov-2015


Directed by
  Yu-sheng Tian

Written by
  Yu-sheng Tian

Cast
  Ryan Zheng
  Amber Kuo
  Lay
  Eric Wang



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