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Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2
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by Jay Seaver

"Manages to live up to its predecessor and then, wow."
3 stars

"Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2" repeats quite a bit from part one, from rescuing a weird pet to flirting through facing windows; one character even wryly asks another if she thinks her life is a "to be continued". You might be tempted to deride that as unoriginal, but the idea of a sequel is often to recapture what people liked before, and that's what director Johnnie To and his cast & crew do here - they give us more "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", in a way that doesn't have to undercut the original.

It's been about a year since Chang Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) chose humble architect Fang QiHong (Daniel Wu Yan-zu) over her playboy former boss Cheung Shen Ran (Louis Koo tin-Lok), and they're due to be married in a couple of months, as soon as QiHong completes the building in Suzhou that he is working on. While at a fitting for her wedding dress with brother Paul (Vic Chou Yu-min), she manages to land a new job with "Goddess of Stocks" Yang Yangyang (Miram Yeung Chin-wah) - who, it turns out, has just started dating Shen Ran as the two rent office space across the street from each other. She also meets Paul, and while Shen Ran's assistant John (Lam Suet) says he was over Zixin within moments, that doesn't really seem to be the case.

Following up a hit romantic comedy is a minefield - most of the time, filmmakers wind up either rolling back a hard-earned happy ending or having the characters do something else. So what To and regular writers Wai Ka-fai, Ryker Chan, and Yu Xi come up with is actually a really clever solution - drop the third vertex of a love triangle back into a similar situation with a couple of new characters and find a way for at least one of the previous movie's happy couple to be a strong supporting character, even if the other is mostly there via Skype. And while this could be just cheap repetition, the Milkyway Image crew are pretty clever - there are jokes built on bringing back stuff from before and an undercurrent where Shen-ran consciously or unconsciously recreating what happened before gives his character some weight.

Indeed, one of the most pleasant surprises in Don't Go Breaking My Heart was that even if the other characters did regularly refer to Shen Ran as "asshole" like it was his name, he was actually a worthy rival at times and charming enough to plow through that at others. Louis Koo has a bit more to overcome this time around - Shen Ran's not really letting go is kind of creepy on top of the general philandering - but he still rides the roller coaster impressively: Koo plays a funny, charismatic-as-heck jerk fantastically, but he also sells that Shen Ran was legitimately heartbroken enough to get thrown when around Zixin. Koo continues to make what could be a stock supporting character a lot more interesting than one might expect.

For her part, Gao Yuanyuan handles the shift in her duties away from the center of the movie fairly well. It's not quite a demotion from leading lady to wacky assistant, but she is reacting a little more, with a continued funny confidence in many areas even if she's playing the sidekick in others. Miriam Yeung gets the role Gao had in the first, and she's a lot of fun in it. There's a running gag about her being a terrible driver and shoving over so that someone else can steer her Ferarri that Yeung plays in a cheerful way that never makes Yangyang look like the butt of the joke, and her whole part is like that - she may be doing silly drunk scenes or in situations that make her look the fool, but she's always going to bounce back. She's got good chemistry with Vic Chou as well, although he's the one who sort of gets shortchanged by the crowded cast - he's funny and sweet and doesn't have as much heavy lifting as the rest of the cast.

Still, the four of them have plenty to do. There are moments when you kind of have to admire what Johnnie To does with an awkward script, like the ten minutes at the start where everything gets shoved roughly into place so that the real story can begin. There's something that shouldn't sit right every couple minutes but To juggles them well enough for it to go down easy. We don't get quite so many across-the-street bits as in the first, but we do get a couple, and it's worth noting that those are pretty elaborate things to stage for romantic comedies. Wai and his co-writers move things around well too, building a shape more complex than the usual triangle and also setting things up just so that we buy into A not telling B about C, which leads to a few genuinely great folks act on incomplete information.

The familiarity and assured direction that keeps everything moving smoothly covers how ambitious this movie is for its genre, and it turns out to be a little more than the film can handle. Maybe it's because Daniel Wu isn't on-screen much at all, but the part of the movie that's about the torch Shen Ran continues to carry for Zixin doesn't seem fully formed, so when it becomes a big part of the movie toward the end, things really come out of nowhere. It's like To and company decide that the characters from the first need to take center stage, relegating Yangyang and Paul to the side, so that the last act is riding a different sort of momentum than the rest of the movie had built up. What has been a rather entertaining movie winds up with a very awkward ending.

It's strange enough that I almost want to watch it again to see if I'd missed something beforehand because I don't expect the unexpected from romantic comedies. It seems very strange that one which is so clever in many ways would have such a big black mark, even if it doesn't erase all of what To et al do right.

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originally posted: 11/17/14 05:23:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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  14-Nov-2014 (NR)



Directed by
  Johnnie To

Written by
  Ryker Chan
  Ka-Fai Wai
  Xi Yu

  Louis Koo
  Yuanyuan Gao
  Miriam Yeung
  Vic Chow
  Daniel Wu
  Suet Lam

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