Love On The Rocks (2004)

Directed by: Chan Hing-Kar & Dante Lam
Written by: Chan Hing-Kar
Producers: Chan Hing-Kar & Amy Chin
Starring: Louis Koo, Gigi Leung, Charlene Choi, Rain Li, Kathy Chow, Gillian Chung & Donnie Yen

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Yet again controlling his projects full on, Chan Hing-Kar still apparently isn't a control freak enough to get into the directing chair alone. Perhaps for the best as quality varies throughout his career. None more so than we he last teamed up with Dante Lam in Naked Ambition, a comedic drama about the adulthood film industry that had ONE good joke and zero drama. Adhering to the "confines" of the romantic comedy with Love On The Rocks then, one has to say Chan has spoken in a little bit more valid way within it before. Especially in La Brassiere and his sole fine collaboration with Lam when he co-wrote and co-produced When I Look Upon The Stars. There was some hope left, going into Love On The Rocks...

And what you do realize is that Chan, at least along with co-writer Amy Chin, is quite a clever guy. At least in terms of gathering up questions and facets about relationships (and that's a large disorganized well to deal with) in a coherent manner for a cinema audience. Hence Love On The Rocks being quite the vocal portrayal of gaining experience and knowledge through ache but classifying it as commercial cinema is a tad harder. Although a brave choice to keep matters quite non-wacky and dialogue-based, it also takes a certain something to spice up matters cinematically all throughout. Enter the very valid argument that this film is yet another that stretches out its welcome for about 10 minutes.

But nevertheless, the portrayals and journeys on display remain solid stuff, with structurally it being very logical that the script takes our faulty character (Louis Koo's Wong Kai-Ming) to low places in order to start the climb up. Here's a guy who has let prior experiences rub off on him in poor ways, creating ill habits. He's telling himself to think economically but still invites girlfriend Annie (Gigi Leung) to an all you can eat hot pot on Valentine's Day... out of all days. Tuned ideas, poor balance and execution. No spontaneity.. no ROMANCE! No wonder the two break up on that very day and in his confused state where he can't examine himself alone, Wong enlist online romance expert Crystal (Charlene Choi)...

The brightest (literally) aspect of Love On The Rocks, Choi gets a very crucial role as communicator of what makes fine love and it makes sense Crystal has never had those experiences herself. One argument against her I personally have is that she says to have read everything on love but you can, on the fringes, gather a whole lot about what makes good love even without literature. Nevertheless, Crystal knows how to push for the adventurous side of Ming, getting him to uncomfortable places in order to send him out in the world to explore the experiences needed from the past to be used in the present. It turns out Ming is very good at starting relationships (he does look like Louis Koo after all) but when sharing a space with someone, the worst and also regular habits come out in a way he's not adept at handling and balancing.

For large amounts of time, Chan Hing-Kar and Dante Lam keeps matters well afloat by balancing the word-heavy status of the production with a playful cinematic sense that merges with the film rather nicely (that's why it's good to have Dante on a production). Taking very few detours into unnecessary Hong Kong cinema comedy, it's rather the latter parts of Ming's journey that annoys and this comes from Chan Hing-Kar and Amy Chin. They manage to take to heart TOO MUCH the notion of getting Ming to the lowest, most stupid places and therefore argues jealousy will come out in the silliest of ways. This being evident when Ming spies on the dinner scene between Annie and rich boy Victor (Donnie Yen, an unusual casting choice for the genre) where a drunk Ming gets a whipping (very literally) by Yen.

We expect the final reel to then contain the sum of all that's happened, knowledge gained etc but somewhere along the line the substance to all of this has become unclear and all of a sudden, characters have learned more than we logically thought was possible at this point. While too long, Love On The Rocks also is wrapped up too quickly (!) and although possessing an admirable smart aura, it's a shame it can't thoroughly live up to being a standout in the rom/com genre output. It actually becomes trapped in it.

The DVD:

Distributed by Tai Seng in North America, Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Clear of damage and possessing decent colours, a tad more sharpness wouldn't have hurt but obviously the transfer is quite sufficient.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 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 has a few select spelling errors but are otherwise on the whole fully coherent. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available. Extras are limited to a Photo Gallery (20 high quality images) and Star's Files (only contains filmographies) for Louis Koo, Gigi Leung and Charlene Choi. Reportedly the Hong Kong distributed edition of the dvd contains an English subtitled Making Of and trailers for various other movies including the feature at hand.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson