Itchy Heart (2004)

Written & directed by: Matt Chow
Producers: Joe Ma & Ivy Kong
Starring: Lau Ching-Wan, Carina Lau, Cherrie Ying, Andy On & Coco Chiang

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7 years into his marriage, Poon Chi-Man (Lau Ching-Wan) lives well but remains stuck in a routine with his wife (Coco Chiang). When she leaves for Japan, Poon does his best Risky Business-imitation but then sinks inside again when his newly found freedom doesn't seem fun for very long. Meeting young energizer bunny Cherrie (Cherrie Ying - Throw Down) at a disco changes that though and if that wasn't revitalizing enough, the club is owned by Poon's ex-girlfriend Bing (Carina Lau - Infernal Affairs II). The itchy heart gets stirred in two ways then...

A bit of an industry whore as he can be seen in plentiful bit parts but is also a frequent writer on notable movies such as Bullets Over Summer, Juliet In Love, Three: Going Home and Dog Bite Dog, Matt Chow's forays into directing has passed by rather unnoticed. Finally receiving some mild wind under his wings via this romantic comedy, when teaming up with Lau Ching-Wan again for The Attractive One later in 2004, Matt Chow decreased his stock value quite considerably. But once there was a bright moment, as well for Lau Ching-Wan despite yet another choice to do a comedy. Itchy Heart does represent one of the few good choices of his in the last few years, before My Name Is Fame got him seriously back on track again.

Not apologizing for going goofy AND pleasant on us, writer/director Matt Chow seems to be infatuated by some facets of Wilson Yip's style as we experience dips into quirky behaviour that shouldn't belong in a reality based tale but Chow makes a good case for his ability to mix it up. Rather straight forward otherwise, pretty much his sole attempt at style resides in his setup of the Lau Ching-Wan/Coco Chiang marriage. Starting out with brief bliss, seven years into the process, proceedings have turned stale and static. The latter being effective choices Chow makes with his camera. It really starts to resemble a less cynical American Beauty and akin to if Chevy Chase had scored with Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon's Family Vacation. Am saying that because Lau is absolutely on fire when possessing this character shell that gives way for all manner of awkward behaviour. Much having to do with him being out of touch since long with his youth and totally insecure at flirting. Here's a man that wants to recapture his past days and meeting Cherrie Ying's character that is conveniently named Cherrie, and his old girlfriend, the independent Bing, writer/director Matt Chow flashes the not so refreshing dilemma of how you recapture. And with whom. We're kind of interested.

Poon can't hide his torment when seeing Bing live her life to the fullest, alone, and while she doesn't display a dissatisfaction about a missing factor in her life, along the way past hurt comes to surface where the two clash and can't hide their undeniable connection. In between there's the why's about Poon relationship with Cherrie, the jealousy of Bing's body trainer Wil (Andy On) and no strand of originality ever rears its head. But Matt Chow rightly argues that his straight faced direction shouldn't be a problem when presenting characters. With simply smashing star power in Lau Ching-Wan and Carina Lau, their double act drives the film rather nicely along, with developments along the way that are interesting enough to warrant a follow through. Chow is not afraid either, nor is Lau, to present Poon as deeply flawed and he may not even reach full circle come ending credits time. However since Chow opens the film at a key moment, he wisely chooses to end it at one such different one too. Cherrie Ying is often adorable and while objectified for structural reasons, it's a slight character having MUCH to do with Poon's journey that certainly isn't squandered in the hands of the young beauty. Matt Chow tries desperately to make Andy On part of his vision but his overacting never leans naturally into the quirkiness of certain parts of the flick and nor does it when part of the straight mode. On is simply an embarrassment but give him kudos for a willingness to act like an ass.

Where's Matt Chow as a director then and where is he going? Not very far and not in the minds of the community one that has set a stage for himself that will mean gem after gem on the assembly line conveyer belt of cinema. Clearly a guy with an eye and need to tell stories of relationships, Itchy Heart works well, starting with its very symbolic title and leading to the journey of Lau Ching-Wan's Poon wanting to recapture something from his youth or past. Much thanks to a part silly, part tuned performance by lead Lau, equally much charisma is added to the flick via Carina Lau. So the combo of the relationship comedy that has been flashed many times before us and radiating stars, Itchy Heart finds a valid, if not long lasting place in the current cannon of Hong Kong cinema.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78.1, with anamorphic enhancement. Overall a pleasing image with expected strong colours and sharpness.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.

The English subtitles go by without confusing so translation should equal fairly honed. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also provided.

Extras-wise, we start with the standard Making Of that is in fact a section containing 5 short programs (ranging from 1 minute, 10 seconds to 3 minutes, 14 seconds for a total of 11 minutes and 26 seconds). Focusing slightly on each of the actors through the programs, since Chinese imbedded subtitles are only included, the info isn't obtainable for me but the programs comes off as rather slight and standard anyway. An animated story seemingly concerning cavemen that opens the first show marks a rare original touch within this promo fluff though. The trailer and Mei Ah's useless Databank concludes the supplements.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson