blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Yesterday Once More (2004, Johnnie To)

The event romantic comedy is a familiar genre, but not one with frequent entries. With the exception of Julia Roberts (and maybe Sandra Bullock), the genre in American cinema does not exist anymore. The hardships of making these films is finding a project the stars jibe with–I mean, people actually like Runaway Bride. Two Weeks Notice, which I thought was a huge bomb, was actually a hit. It’s just a hard genre because these films are about the audience’s affection for the actor, not the character she’s playing. I say “she,” of course, because there isn’t–currently–a male event romantic comedy star. Though Hugh Grant tries, it only works when Julia Roberts is part of the equation.

Yesterday Once More is a Hong Kong event romantic comedy, pairing Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng as a pair of divorced (but still, of course, in love) professional thieves. As I understand it from my cursory research, Lau and Cheng did a couple other romantic comedies (as well as some dramas, I guess) and a pairing is a big deal. I’ve seen Lau in Days of Being Wild, but I don’t remember him and I’ve never seen Cheng in anything. I’m not hip on my Hong Kong offerings anymore. I used to watch John Woo stuff, but now I don’t and unless it’s a Wong Kar-Wai, I just queue a Chinese-language film, I don’t rush to see it. An event romantic comedy has a specific target audience (albeit, in theory, a large part of the moviegoing audience) and I am not part of Yesterday Once More’s demographic. But I got it.

For the first forty minutes of the Yesterday, there’s nicely shot, nicely scored montage after montage. First the divorce, then a proposal to Cheng, then a heist, then a trip to Italy. I had to pause it to see what the time was when the film finally slowed down for a scene. Since Yesterday is supposed to be purely entertaining, it has to do very little. It has to be charming. Well, Yesterday pits Cheng against a kleptomaniac mother-in-law to-be, has a couple private investigators who worry about each other’s cholesterol intake. The heists are even cute. Yesterday works because it keeps it simple–besides the couple, there’s a mother-in-law to-be and a few supporting characters, really supporting. When I started watching it, not remembering why I’d queued it in the first place, I realized as long as they kept the character count low, the film would work.

While Lau is good, he’s not the protagonist–he is the character the audience has to identify with, however. Cheng is the one who actually has to act in Yesterday and she brings a semblance of depth to an easy character. Ultimately, the film stumbles because it doesn’t want to embrace its levity. Out of nowhere, in the last half hour, it actually wants to say something, which it can’t. But even those false steps can’t defeat the film’s charm.

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