Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Director Wang Lee Hom is undoubtedly an A-grade talent – there’s no denying he works hard and deserves his multi-hyphenates – so it’s natural to expect great things from an artiste of his award-winning calbire.
Unfortunately, Love in Disguise comes across as a cheap rip-off of every other Asian rom-com and dramedy like Nodame Cantabile, My Sassy Girl and The Secret amongst others. It could be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth – with cinematographer Lee Pin Bing (New York I Love You, In the Mood for Love) and co-writer Du Xin Yi (of popular Taiwanese series You’re My Destiny fame) lending their creative expertise to the project.
As a first time director, Wang is overzealous in stringing together all his ideas at once. In short, the film felt messy in most places and hollow for the rest.
First, let’s talk about the story: mega-star Du Ming Han also known in the movie as DMH (Wang) decides he’s had it with all that money, fame and having the paparazzi ask him provoking questions about his love life and sexual orientation – he just yearns to be normal and boring like everyone else. Armed with Bon Jovi inspired wigs and hobo outfits, DMH and his token side-kick/guitarist Wei Zhi Bo (a pretty amusing Chen Han Dian) disguise themselves as students of an observatory so DMH can hanker after Song Xiao Qing (Crystal Liu) who gives him strange musical orgasms when she performs on her gu zheng (Chinese zither). Unfortunately, she only has eyes for her uber popular and hoity-toity of a senior Mu Fan (Qiao Zhen Yu). Being the ever generous bosom buddy, DMH endeavors to play cupid for Xiao Qing but ends up falling for her instead. Hilarity, or something like it, ensues as DMH struggles to keep his true (hotter) identity from her.
The major problem here is the layer upon layer of clichés and one dimensional characters which are begging to be skewered. Wang may have been envisioning a parody of sorts with this film but somehow the plot falls flat as even the acting leaves much to be desired. Joan Chen, who usually plays her dramatic roles so effortlessly, looks uncomfortable and displaced as DMH’s overbearing manager, though it is refreshing to see Chen take on something that doesn’t have her drowning in tears every five minutes.
Also a few pointless cameos like Xie Na as a psychotic stylist, who seems to equate superior volume with superior acting ability. However the weakest link is Wang’s choice of female lead. ThoughCrystal Liu came highly recommended, and granted she’s certainly easy on the eyes with her porcelain fragility, she looks bewildered 90 percent of the time.
Chen Han Dian and Wang together make sweet music, literally. Surprisingly, the pair play off each other rather pleasantly and scenes that are supposed to elicit collective laughter do work in context. Even their bromance has more chemistry than the romance in the entire film. And to give Wang some credit, he’s turned in a credible performance, managing to capture the nuances of vulnerability in DMH without seeming too pretentious. Let’s just say he’s come a long way since his China Strike Force, Keanu-Reeves-school-of-acting days. Plus Wang Lee Hom in a leather jacket, working that piano and crooning a love song about butterflies? Get ready for plenty of fan-girl sighing. It’s even enough to make you almost forgive the film’s sorry excuse of a plot.
While there’s no denying its decent production value and bursts of exquisite cinematography, Love in Disguise sorely lacks tighter editing. The Chinese painting montages, graphical inserts and that one peculiar split screen are also interesting touches.
Sadly it’s as if Wang couldn’t make up his mind between artsy and cutesy, threw everything into the pot and crossed his fingers on the outcome. The film’s soundtrack is definitely a highlight, but then again this isn’t meant to be an extended promotional video for his new album.