Hong Kong Film Review: Needing You

Needing YouNeeding You
(Goo naam gwa neui)
Johnnie To & Wa Ka Fai, Hong Kong, 2000
Viewed on DVD, Aug. 14

In the US, most film buffs without any particular ties to Asia tend to know only what gets distributed here (which means either a brief theatrical release or none at all, and then a slightly-more prominent video release). When comes to movies from Hong Kong (and, increasingly, the mainland of China), we get martial arts flicks.

I started at the same place, of course, but I was occasionally showed random VCDs (by friends in UC Davis, which led to me, after leaving for grad school, to start searching the Internet for recommendations in other genres. You can’t find most of these films in Blockbuster, but somehow many of them have made their way onto Netflix.

I first read about this film on this website and was intrigued. Like most guys I hate romantic comedies, but unlike most guys, I find myself wishing that Hollywood could make one or two good ones every now and then. After all, most action films are garbage (I have in mind two of this year’s toy tie-in films in particular), but there are always a few impressive ones (Star Trek this year, The Dark Knight and some others last year).

The co-director of this effort, Johnnie To, actually has some significant cred with film buffs and fanboys for his action films (I’ve seen two, but only one (LINK) impressed me), but somehow, To and Wa Ka Fai also managed to create an undeniably-formulaic, but genuinely charming movie with a good balance between sentiment and humor. It’s not so much groundbreaking in style as it is groundbreaking in its success in such a frequently-botched style. And finally, I do think they manage to keep it from getting too sappy, which is an important factor for the menfolk (and the more-cynical womenfolk).

Of course, the film hinges on engaging performances by Andy Lau, perhaps familiar to fanboys from Infernal Affairs or House of Flying Daggers, and Sammi Cheng, who is apparently quite big in Hong Kong, but largely unknown to me. Lau plays a bit of a sleaze while Cheng plays a bit of a wacko, which perhaps works if only because, at least in American film, we are too often subjected to the spectacle of an objectively worthless man successfully pursuing an almost-flawless woman; here, both are flawed yet appealing, and genuinely complement each other’s rough edges.

The workplace setting is also quite effective, as To and Wa do a great job of conveying the pernicious nature of gossip, while also using the setting as a natural way to bring the principle characters closer together (rather than resorting to too many outlandish coincidences. The complications than ensue do seem a bit extraneous at times (as always, the viewer wonders, “what took them so long?” but most set-pieces, such as an interesting twist on the old Cyrano plot, are by themselves surprisingly entertaining).

For those Hong Kong film buffs, there’s also a bit of pretty hillarious meta here, as Needing You gets a handful of jokes from Andy Lau’s depiction, in the 1990 classic A Moment of Romance, of a gangster in love with a naive rich girl  I watched this film due to a recommendation from the same website and was not at all impressed, but at least it was put to some good sue here.

That said, I don’t consider A Moment of Romance to be a perquisite for Needing You (especially because it sucked, and because you won’t miss that many jokes). Rather, if you’re looking for romance that doesn’t suck, pop this one onto your Netflix queue. Yes, you’ll need to read subtitles (if like me, you don’t speak Cantonese, and appreciate that the subtitles contained very few errors). You’ll live!

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