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Love (Ai) (2012)
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by Jay Seaver

"A Valentine from Taiwan."
3 stars

"Love" ("Ai" in Mandarin) is exactly the sort of movie that gets released for Valentine's Day, which is when it showed up in Taiwan and a few larger American cities. It's not a classic romance, but it sets the mood well, being full of good-looking people whose intersecting stories are fairly likely to work out in the end.

It opens with a positive pregnancy test for Taiwanese student Li Yijia (Chen Yi-han) and a tryst between mid-level executive Mark Na ("Mark" Zhao Youting) and his boss's famous-for-being-famous girlfriend Zoe Fang (Shu Qi) that Mark backs out from. From there, the three go their separate directions: Mark goes to look at a house in Beijing, where realtor Jin Xia-Ye (Zhao Wei) gets him into a couple of sticky situations; Yijia breaks the news to Kai (Eddie Peng), the boyfriend of her best friend Ni (Amber Kuo); and a fight with her boyfriend Lu (Doze Niu Chen-zer) leads to Zoe meeting up with Kuan (Juan Ching-tien), who is considerate and hard-working, even if he does have a bad stammer.

Kuan also happens to be Yijia's brother, and there are other connections between the various characters that actually make it a little odd that the Yijia/Kai/Ni and Zoe/Kuan/Lu stories aren't tied together even more closely than they are. It still makes the Mark/Ye thread seem comparatively isolated story-wise as well as geographically, though a closer connection might be a little more coincidence than the audience can take. The individual stories each have an issue or two - much of the second half of Ye's and Mark's is built on a silly and needlessly maintained lie, for instance, while Yijia, Kai, and Ni don't really do or say very much to resolve their situation - but the stories are big enough to matter but not really enough to carry a feature on their own.

Director Doze Niu Chen-zer (who also co-wrote and plays Lu) does a nice job of balancing them, too; nothing hogs the spotlight for too long or falls too far out of sight. He and the other filmmakers generally stay away from over-dramatizing things that could be given more significance than they truly merit while also being able to hit funny or sweet notes well. The big laugh or moment is often elusive, but the little ones add up.

It's a nice ensemble, as well, with Shu Qi and Chen Yi-han two of the more memorable members; Yes, Shu does get a fair amount of mileage on star power and beauty, but she is able to show the character's selfish and charming sides well enough to make Zoe interesting. Chen gives Yijia the sort of sad face and impression of a weight pushing down on her small frame that makes it clear that the audience would love her even more if she weren't burdened like she is. They've got good people to play against, as well - when one doesn't speak Mandarin, it might not be immediately apparent when Juan Ching-tien's Kuan is stammering, but his body language makes what's going on in his head clear. Eddie Peng isn't quite so memorable as Kai, but Amber Kuo handles the double-betrayed Ni quite nicely. Zhao Wei and Zhao Youting are playing a somewhat standard mismatched pair - he's a neat-freak and she's disorganized! - but they do a nice job of selling what is probably the silliest of the stories.

None of the stories are truly exceptional, and the combination of them doesn't quite add up to a greater whole (the generic title of "Ai"/"Love" sort of indicates this). Still, everything is satisfying enough both as pieces and as a whole, which puts "Love" ahead of a number of other would-be romantic movies.

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originally posted: 03/08/12 11:54:40
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