The annual Lunar New Year event does little to change its formula in the seventh installment of this popular series, which is just fine for this very silly and charming romantic slapstick romp.
The Lunar New Year not only marks the most important and longest festival of the Chinese calendar, but a time when huge numbers of people are available to fill cinema seats. Every year, Chinese distributors have programmed the seasons with films designed to appeal to this broad group who suddenly have a whole lot of time and money to spend on flickering images in the dark. A staple of the season has been the All’s Well That Ends Well series, Clifton Ko’s 1992 Hong Kong comedy that combined the stories of three hapless brothers looking for love. With a few sequels in the years that followed, the series has become an annual tradition since 2009 – and it doesn’t look it is going anywhere soon.
Under the loose premise of a dating website that connects women who “need help” with men who are able to provide it, All’s Well That Ends Well 2012 follows four women who have each reached a crisis point in their lives and need a man to help them out in some way. There’s the aging former pop-idol who is trying to get her career back on track Chelsea Sing (Sandra Ng), and allays herself with wannabe rock-star Carl Tan (Donnie Yen) in an attempt to win a contest.
Then there’s the country’s most successful author of popular fiction, Pat Patterson (Chapman To) who is hidden away by his publisher because his look is not the attractive one the audience craves. When he begins to develop a relationship with an attractive blind woman (Lynn Xiong), he too finds himself hiding from her. The budding romance between a building labourer Kin (Louis Koo) and photographer (Kelly Chen) is more of a straightforward class struggle. Finally, there’s the loathsome attorney (Raymond Wong), who has estranged his own daughter, until he finds himself acting as “fake daddy” for heiress who is trying to pick a suitable future husband.
When compared with the cynical US equivalent, such as the thematically similar New Year’s Eve, the stars here might be used to put bums on seats, but they don’t simply turn up to take the cheques. The material is (intentionally) thin, in much the same way that a musical has to be light on plotting: if you go too deep the songs start to seem ridiculous. Such is the case with a broad comedy series like All’s Well That Ends Well, which requires a complete suspension of disbelief upon impact. While the central premise of All’s Well That Ends Well 2012 has a disturbing undercurrent of sexism, and by undercurrent we mean overtly over the top, this is undoubtedly not just tongue in cheek but a wild parody as well.
Case in point is Donnie Yen, playing against his action-man role as a broken rock-star, perpetually stuck in the 1980s. At least one of the photography sessions with Louis Koo and Kelly Chen seems to be a spot-on role-reversal spoof of a similar scene in Wayne’s World. Chapman To and Lynn Xiong’s section, although grounded in fairly familiar territory, is one of the strongest and the sweetest, although To’s performance is grounded in this spirit of parody. Modelling the look and mannerisms of the character on Hong Kong director Peter Chan (Wu Xia), the resemblance is actually kind of spooky, bu actually gives the actor a neat gimmick to work his otherwise straightforward romance around. Xiong (aka Lynn Hung) played a shrewish woman of wealth in last year’s installment, and here her role is a more pitiable one, gently breezing her way into the hearts and minds of the audience. Popular mainland actress Yang Mi impressively holds her own against veteran Raymond Wong, not only appearing in her first Hong Kong-style comedy, but reportedly memorising all of the Cantonese dialogue for the film as well.
As the title would imply, All’s Well That Ends Well 2012 is a film where the audience can relax, safe in the knowledge that nothing tragic will happen by the end of the film and all parties will be safely coupled-up. As brightly coloured as it is happy, the film is technically well-shot and shows a confidence in the format that only comes with seven chapters. As the film reaches its inevitable conclusion, complete with a Happy New Year message from the assembled cast, smiles will be bountiful. Think: it’s only twelve months until All’s Well That Ends Well 2013!
All’s Well That Ends Well 2012 is released in Australia on 26 January 2012 from China Lion. A complete list of cinemas screening the film can be found on their website.