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Overall Rating
4.14

Awesome: 14.29%
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1 review, 1 rating


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New York New York (2016)
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by Jay Seaver

"At least tries to bring in only the best."
4 stars

I wasn't really looking forward to "New York New York"; the trailer made it look like yet another nostalgic Chinese romance, and not a particularly involving one. And yet, once it gets past its opening flash-forward, maybe even before, it gets unexpectedly interesting: The filmmakers are going for a Wong Kar-wai-style melancholy, and while not up to that level of skill, they've sized upon a story that may intrigue audiences on both sides of the Pacific.

Here, "New York New York" refers not only to the American city but a nightclub in Shangai near the Gordon Hotel, where Lu Tu (Ethan Juan Jing-tien) is a concierge, promoted to captain at a young age and something of a mentor to "little brother" Kun (William Yang Xu-wen). Lu Tu takes a shine to tour guide Ruan Yujuan (Du Juan), a poor beauty whose mother is setting up introductions to increasingly distasteful men. But Shanghai is where China's increasing engagement with the West is being felt first in 1993, and Chinese-American guest Mr. Mi (Michael Miu Kiu-wai) is pitching a "Shanghai Grand Hotel" in Manhattan. He has 200 visas for potential staff, and wants Lu Tu. Unlike most of his colleagues, including "Juan", Lu Tu has no desire to go to New York, but might be willing to recruit for Mi.

If this film is any one thing before anything else, it is a love story, but a rather understated one where the audience watches two fairly reticent characters grow fonder of each other without ever having the no-doubt moment. Juan is practical; she knows her looks are a valuable commodity even if trading on them is not how she wants to live. Lu Tu is described as a player but has a certain rigid honesty to him. Theirs is never an all-consuming love, and in some ways that makes watching it play out on the actors' faces more intriguing: Du Juan spends a lot of time showing Juan as chafing at the idea of owing men or being defined by how she might be tied to them even as she plots a path through that minefield, implying hardness but not necessarily needing separate moments to imply that it's a shell (though the moments where the audience does get to see her cheerful or vulnerable go a long way). Ethan Juan, meanwhile, lets a fair amount of ego into Lu Tu's charm; it's not a surprise when he gets jealous, even if the actor does keep the audience inclined to like the guy.

It's not just a love story, of course; to say that New York New York takes place against the background of people vying for new opportunities is denying how central that is to many of the characters. The movie puts most of its focus on Lu Tu, aligning itself with his vision of New York as a false dream that mainly returns boxes of ashes. Writers Ha Chi-chao and Lu Nei elaborate on his individual reasons for feeling this way, and director Luo Dong does a nice job of balancing this personal motivation with the larger truth. Still, it's not difficult to empathize with Juan and the many others who want to do more than slowly climb the local ladder; Michael Miu's Mr. Mi is tempting, Cecilia Yip's Ms. Jin is formidable, and even minor characters like Ms. Jin's snotty assistant played by Isabelle Huang offer an interesting look at people feeling the squeeze.

One interesting thing about the movie is how the opening flash-forward, often a crutch for filmmakers trying to force an emotion, actually does a nice job of establishing a melancholy atmosphere in the scenes that follow. Part of this is that the filmmakers don't get overly clever trying to either fake the audience out or set down clear signposts on the way to the foregone conclusion; they establish tone as much as a definitive endpoint, almost seeming to remind Luo that this is where the film is supposed to be heading. Indeed, when the film actually catches up to where it started, Luo seems to lose his way a bit - it feels like they skip over a step or two, and the last act is melodramatic and indecisive, with characters running back and forth between options in a way that doesn't fit with what came before.

It's still a cut or three above the film that it looked like and could have been, a romance that looks back at an exciting time but doesn't overdo it on the sentimentality (or, for that matter, nationalism, which could be a real danger here). It's an impressive debut for director Luo Dong with a quality cast, hopefully a sign of things to come.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=30379&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/18/16 10:11:33
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User Comments

4/18/16 Christopher Macias Really Good Review and Movie. Great Job ! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-Apr-2016

UK
  N/A

Australia
  15-Apr-2016


Directed by
  Dong Luo

Written by
  Chi-chao Hei
  Nei Lu

Cast
  Ethan Juan
  Juan Du
  Michael Miu
  Cecilia Yip
  William Yang



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