[HKFF 2011] THE BREAK-UP CLUB (2010)
In Cantonese with English and Chinese subtitles
Genre: Romance/ Comedy
Director: Barbara Wong
Cast: Fiona Sit, Jaycee Chan, Hiro Hayama, Patrick Tang
RunTime: 1 hr 44 mins
Rating: PG (Scenes of Intimacy)
Official Website: -
Screening Dates: 15, 16 and 19 August 2011
Synopsis: Joe is an aimless young man who loves his on-and-off girlfriend Flora sincerely. Unfortunately for Joe, Fa breaks up with Joe due to his lack of ambitions. After their latest breakup, Joe goes to an audition for a documentary by director Barbara Wong (the director, playing herself). Handed a camera, Joe records his discovery of a magical which promises to reunite lost loves if they are willing to break up another couple...
The title of the movie refers to a website where heartbroken lovers can go to enter the names of another couple they know whom they want to see broken up, just so they can get back together with the one they love. It’s a gimmick, just like director Barbara Wong’s decision to film this movie verite-style, combining handheld cameras and other documentary-style techniques to chart the ups and downs of one young couple, Joe and Flora.
As played by Jaycee Chan and Fiona Sit- rumoured to be dating in real life- both gimmicks actually pay off surprisingly well. For one, Jaycee and Fiona, in their second onscreen pairing since “2 Young”, are pitch-perfect in their roles. They share a genuine chemistry in every one of their scenes together, making you believe almost effortlessly of their love for each other. They are also perfect for their roles because neither of them is particularly attractive, or good-looking, so it isn’t hard for us audiences to relate to them.
Which really is the point of the film, as Barbara opts for a modern-day realistic look at dating and relationships among young adults. Joe is a twenty-something slacker, his lack of commitment at holding a job, finding a permanent one, and figuring out what he wants to do with his life is causing problems with his girlfriend Flora. Their first altercation leads Joe to discover the website, and finding out that it works, after his best friend (Patrick Tang) breaks up his girlfriend and Joe patches back with Fiona in that sequence.
This quarrel also leads Joe to meet with a film director (Barbara Wong as herself) who gives Joe a handheld camera to capture his love story. After they get back together, Joe returns the camera but how Barbara and the audience continues to witness their subsequent romance unfolding in the same handheld close-up style is something that’s explained at the end of the movie. The choice of technique works brilliantly, bringing the audience right into the heart of the drama between Joe and Flora.
From the very beginning, Barbara lets us know that Joe and Flora are indeed in love with each other- some particularly poignant scenes include the day when Joe prepares a birthday surprise for Flora, when Joe and Flora try skipping in synchrony on the bed and when Flora surprises Joe by bursting into the bathroom with the camera when he is peeing. Barbara’s film doesn’t trade in overtures, but rather in the minutiae of daily life, the day-to-day moments spent together that make up the most of any couple’s dating life.
Her portrayal of romance in the modern world is also refreshingly accurate. Joe and Flora are resolutely Gen-Z, where mobile phones and PSPs are requisites and dating consists of living together and sleeping together. Their struggles too are just as authentic. Isn’t it true that love isn’t always enough to sustain a relationship, often requiring too commitment, honesty and direction? Even adolescent sweethearts realise at some point that their future together depends on finding a job, starting a family and providing for one another. Barbara emphasises this through the entry- halfway through the film- of graffiti artist Lies Hayama (Hiro Hayama), the kind of go-getter Joe is exactly the opposite of.
The film-within-a-film comes to an especially heartfelt conclusion when Joe and Flora are ultimately confronted with the tensions within their relationship pulling their love apart, and forced to decide if they want to work things out together or move on from each other. Jaycee and Fiona’s performances in this scene are flawless, and guaranteed to leave you misty-eyed. Indeed, I’ll go so far as to say that they are one of the best, if not the best, screen couples I have seen this year and their acting alone is enough to make this one of the must-watch romantic dramas of the year.
But credit should be reserved for Barbara and her longtime writer/producer Lawrence Cheng (who also appears in the film) for creating a movie that blurs the line between real and reel life so skilfully. Their technique adds to a movie that gives a refreshingly honest and realistic look at dating and relationships among young adults in the modern world, where memories are captured ever more ubiquitously on handphones and cameras. Simply one of the very best and original Hong Kong films of the year, and also one of the most romantic and heartfelt movies in a long, long while.
(One of the very best romantic and heartfelt movies from Hong Kong)
Review by Gabriel Chong