Chinese Director Andrew Lau, perhaps best known for the thrilling "Infernal Affairs" saga, tries his hand at something a bit softer with the romantic melodrama "A Beautiful Life." As the first scenes of "A Beautiful Life" unfolded, I truly believed that I was going to love this movie. It is certainly well made and its stars, Shu Qi and Liu Ye, are inherently appealing. They have a terrific chemistry and play off each other exceedingly well. And yet, as the film progressed, I realized that I didn't really care about either protagonist and certainly not their journey together. Qi is painted as a selfish manipulator (with zero redeeming value) and Ye ends up being a doormat for her every whim. Look, I'm not saying that people don't form unhealthy relationships like this in real life, but Lau genuinely wants us to care about this train wreck of a pairing. And I didn't. I tried, but I couldn't. You know that the film wants you to believe in the inevitability of true love conquering all, but I just wanted Ye to run for the hills at every opportunity. The man plays a veritable saint, and I suppose he wants to rescue the destructive maiden, but she all but ruins his life.
Ye plays a good natured police officer in Beijing. Having been hurt deeply with a prior relationship, Ye dedicates his life to work and caring for his disabled brother. Qi is a successful real estate businesswoman, recently transplanted from Hong Kong to move her career forward. The two meet cute at a karaoke bar where she is falling-down drunk and he rescues her (the first of many times). Improbably, they meet once again a little while later (she selfishly and unapologetically parks her car on a one lane thoroughfare backing up traffic--but she doesn't care) where she puts her flirt on and Ye must be attracted to her free spirit. She calls him numerous times to use and exploit his affection for her, and I found it all rather distasteful and not the least bit charming. Before this romance even takes off, she will ask him to compromise his professional ethics and endanger his very livelihood. What ends up happening is unforgivable, horrendous, and absolutely unpleasant. And yet, the film's romanticism still insists for something that the screenplay and characterizations don't support.
If, after this description, you think that Qi will learn her lesson and true love will win out (and really, who wouldn't think that?)--the movie doesn't really even give you that satisfaction. The final act of the movie turns into a weepy melodrama, which is fine, but the film never earned my emotional involvement. If you give me both romance and tragedy, but I never believe in the central relationship--there is bound to be something lacking in the emotional payoff. Despite good performances, I was apathetic in even the most heartrending moments. It was very disappointing. The film even comes to a conclusion completely open-ended. Liu Ye has an understated charm that I found almost irresistible. Shu Qi can light up the screen. But "A Beautiful Life" never made me care and I REALLY REALLY wanted to. Not a bad film, per se, it is just something that never connected with me. KGHarris, 12/11.