A Beautiful Life (2011)
Written by: Theresa Tang Kit Ming
Cast By: Liu Ye, Shu Qi, Tian Liang, Feng Dang-Ying
Andrew Lau has never been a director known for subtle directions, but in A Beautiful Life he has certainly proved to the pundits he is more than capable of delivering a romantic story. Despite the occasional overacting and exaggerated scenes that is so typical in Andrew Lau’s work, A Beautiful Lifewould certainly shed some tears from the audience for its subtle and realistic storyteling.
There is certainly chemistry going on between the two main stars Liu Ye and Shu Qi that makes the movie even more touching. The movie also features an old song by Taiwanese singer Bobby Chen and the interluding song Silent Guitar sung by Jackie Cheung, which was adapted from Danny Summer’s 1988 cantonese song (which Danny Summer himself adapted from the Malay Band Search , the original song was called Fanatasia Bulan Madu) which truthfully sings aloud the internal struggles of the protagonist.
Theme Song of a Beautiful Life sung by Jackie Cheung
Fang Zhen Dong (Liu Ye) is a patrolling officer in Beijing who one night meets the drunk Li Pei Ru (Shu Qi) while singing karaoke at the KTV place. Li Pei Ru is a real estate agent from Hong Kong who has vowed to make her fortune in the cosmoplitan Beijing, but is caught up in the complexities of life and ends up becoming a mistress of a married man.
Both Fang Zhen Dong and Li Pei Ru’s lives start to intermingle together, as it becomes clear that Zhen Dong also has his burden to carry, with a failed marriage that took away all his fortune and an intrinsic younger brother (Tian Liang) with communication barriers, nevertheless Zhen Dong still uses all his efforts and love to make everyone around him happy, including Pei Ru herself.
Pei Ru’s life eventually falls apart upon knowing that his lover not only has another woman (apart from his wife), but has also deceived her of her fortune. The heartbroken Pei Ru pleads for help from Zhen Dong, who sells his house in order for her to start a new business, but she’s mismanaged venture results in a business failure, Pei Ru goes back to Hong Kong without notice, leaving Zhen Dong in grief.
However, after going back to Hong Kong, Pei Ru discovers that his heart has always been with Zhen Dong, and decides to return to Beijing. What she sees however is that Zhen Dong has disappeared, and has contracted Alzheimer’s disease. Will Pei Ru overcome all his obstacles with Zhen Dong and reunite with him?
Shu Qi in A Beautiful Life
This year we have seen a number of romantic films from China, notwithstanding Don’t go Breaking My Heart, Johnnie To’s version of a romantic film that offers a more fantasized landscape geared towards commercial success. A Beautiful Life is however a simple story that proves to be deep in emotions, and exceptionally 2 hours epic long for a romantic theme. At times it seems that the story would just go on forever and there are places where it turns a bit boring to watch. There are erroneous Scenes such as where all the police comes out to salute to Fang Zhen Dong during his departure seems like a cheap adaption from Infernal Affairs, which proves to be both unnecessary and distracting to an otherwise realistic movie.
But what makes up for it is the emotional part, the brotherly love between Fang Zheng Dong and Zheng Cong, and Zheng Cong’s love towards Xiaowan, and most of all, the love between Zheng Dong and Pei Ru, which comes to a climax at the second half of the film. The subtleties shown in the film are also touching, such as Zhen Dong’s effort to wrap up Pei Ru’s doll in waiting for her return.
A Beautiful Life is also one of those films that does not over fantasize its settings. We see the typical Beijing landscape and the old Hutongs of Beijing. Although the latter half of the movie where the setting changes to Mentougou seems more like a pretentious attempt to sell a tourist attraction, but still it successful adds a local character in the film, which is an element lacking in most romantic comedies from China these days.
Shu Qi’s portrayal as a Hong Kong girl in Beijing is indeed a hardsell, but her efforts in developing a career in China is gaining traction. The most compellingly emotional scenes have come from Shu Qi’s superb acting, such as the minute long rant that interchanges between mandarin and cantonese while she was drunk was both a convincing display of her emotions.
A Beautiful Life does have its uncomfortable spots though, not to offer an over-interpretation of the movie but Andrew Lau does seem to be making a point in his characterization of the relationships between Hong Kong and Beijing. I mean seriously, 10 years ago the plot would’ve been unthinkable, or it could’ve been a Beijing girl meeting a Hong Kong policeman. However, interchanging realities show that times have changed, with Beijing seen as the new land of opportunity and Hong Kong is the place of mortgage traps and materialistic girls that are full of greed and unable to commit. Even Pei Ru, the originally materialistic Hong Kong girl needs to find a savior in Beijing. We could probably find some of Andrew Lau’s subtle thoughts in this matter in A Beautiful Life.
With this said, A Beautiful Life is certainly a romantic film that you won’t miss if you are looking for something to stir up your emotional world.