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Adoring
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by Jay Seaver

"May the new year bring you lots of good dogs, cats, and pigs."
4 stars

"Adoring" is pretty much exactly the carefully-manufactured crowd-pleaser it looks like, a couple hours of very loyal and smart pets and their owners who dote on each other nearly as much as on them. It is built to have something for everybody and leans hard on its animal co-stars, and is easy enough to dismiss for all that. It's also pretty darn earnest and sometimes just odd enough to catch one by surprise.

The first good boy we meet is Zha, a golden retriever belonging to teenager Jiang Nan (Zhang Zifeng), whose best friend since kindergarten Chen Yeyun (Leo Wu) has recently gone blind. Nearby, Luo Hua (Tan Jianci) asks for his mysophobic neighbor An Ying (Kan Qingzi) to help him rescue a kitten from underneath a car before roping her into looking after it while he's on a business trip. "Fay" Qu Feifei (Yang Zishan) is paranoid about why boyfriend Li Xiang (Wallace Chung Han-Liang) hasn't invited her home yet, until she discovers that his pet Bell is a spoiled pig; her friend Fang Xin (Zhong Chuxi) has just married Zhao Le (William Chan Wai-Ting), although Xin's rottweiler Seven has not exactly accepted the new member of the family. Divorced dad Gao Ming (Yu Hewei) looks after his daughter's cat Angela while Mengmeng (Li Landi) is living with her mother in America, while restaurant delivery man Ade (Kevin Guo Qilin) finds himself relying on a clever terrier to get his deliveries to the right location, only to discover that strays are being rounded up in this fairly posh new neighborhood..

This dog introduces himself to Ade by dragging an actual banana peel from the garbage so that Ade will slip on it and drop some teriyaki chicken, one of several scenes that probably marks him as the smartest of several extremely bright animals. It's actually kind of impressive how well director Larry Yang Zi and animal coordinator David Allsberry's team of handlers build gags around these guys being extraordinary even by movie standards without quite tilting into things being too exaggerated - a few scenes, from this dog avoiding a trap to the kitten adorably laying waste to Ying's shelves full of Lego constructs and tchotchkes are something like half a step away from being cartoons but for really impeccable staging.

Some of the threads get more out of their human co-stars than others; the bits with Fay and Xiang, for instance, lean hard on Bell being a weird pet but never get as much out of the two being an unusual pairing - he is genuinely eccentric and she mostly seems to be looking for a rich husband, and the story runs in circles without doing much. The bits with Yu Hewei as Gao Ming also seem to be stalling for time until Mengmeng shows up near the end, and the pieces with Zhao Le, Fang Xin, and Seven often feel too broadly played until the filmmakers decide to turn things around toward the end, almost like they were asking William Chan and Zhong Chuxi to go for cheese so that their later scenes would be a starker contrast.

It's a trick that kind of works, even if it's not quite so elegant as Zhang Zifeng just being solid throughout, whether Nan is being stubborn, smitten, or doing good physical comedy as she tries to train Zha to be a guide dog. The best bits use these pets as a way of reaching out and developing trust, whether it's through An Ying getting used to the very idea of sharing space with someone or the Gaos getting past using their cat as an intermediary after their family has been ripped apart. It's smart to have things end and come together with Ade befriending the stray, though, because that dog's backstory turns out to be the saddest and it serves as a reminder that, as much as pets make their humans' lives better, they don't just exist to do that, and responsibility flows in the other direction as well.

Pretty sugary stuff, although the sheer amount of whimsy in the details from An Ying's outfits for the fashionable germophobe to the elevator Bell uses to get around Xiang's house keeps it from feeling lazy. It's still very much what it looks like, a bunch of little stories which are simple by nature, but which are entertaining and effective regardless.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33443&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/08/20 01:18:22
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USA
  03-Jan-2020

UK
  10-Jan-2020 (12A)

Australia
  09-Jan-2020


Directed by
  Larry Yang

Written by
  Jianan Ran
  Larry Yang

Cast
  Zifeng Zhang
  Leo Wu
  Qingzi Kan
  Jianci Tan
  Zishan Yang
  Wallace Chung
  Chuxi Zhong
  William Chan
  Kevin Guo
  Hewei Yu
  Landi Li



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