In this past year, no director has risen in my esteem greater than Johnnie To. This is due in no small part to Drug War, his exceptional action film from last year that shamed American films of the same type. However, Johnnie To has much more to offer viewers than merely being a maestro of crime cinema. Along with Milkyway Image co-founder and producer Wai Ka Fai, To is also a purveyor of unapologetically silly romantic comedies. In his latest film, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2, which is a sequel to his 2011 charmer, To again gives us a story of lovers caught in the throes of indecision and mixed emotions. This sequel may lack the refreshing pragmatism of its predecessor, but what it lacks in freshness, it makes up for in unabashed silliness and sincerity.
At the end of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, stock analyst Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) chose her architect boyfriend Qihong (Daniel Wu) over the incorrigible stock manager Shen Ran (Louis Koo) after a series of grand gestures by both men intended to win Zixin’s heart. Zixin and Qihong went off into the sunset together, leaving Shen Ran devastated and heartbroken. Or so we thought. As Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 shows in its opening minutes, not much has changed since Zixin chose Qihong over Shen Ran. Shen Ran is still a womanizing stock manager, whose new paramour just so happens to be Zixin’s new boss, Yang Yang (Miriam Yeung). Zixin’s brother, Paul (Vic Chou), also finds himself falling for Yang Yang, while Zixin resists the lure to fall back into Shen Ran’s orbit.
Much of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 repeats or plays with moments from the first film, inverting them or elaborating on them to reveal more about these characters. There’s the same cross tower flirting where Shen Ran and Yang Yang use post-it notes and Christmas lights to meet-cute across the distance of their buildings. Johnnie To is a skillful filmmaker and uses the spatial relationships between the buildings to develop some great comedic moments. One standout scene finds Zixin watching in horror as Shen Ran’s many mistresses arrive one at a time to give him birthday gifts. Being in the next building over, Zixin can see all the mistresses waiting in adjacent offices, oblivious to each other because of the dividing walls, but Yang Yang is completely unaware of what she’s getting herself into when she heads over to give Shen Ran a birthday cake because she doesn’t see what Zixin does.
There’s also another animal that becomes the film’s unofficial mascot. Instead of the beloved frog of the first film, in Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 the characters fixate on an octopus named Genie that possesses the gift of reverse prediction, according to Yang Yang. In one hilarious scene Yang Yang and Paul steal the octopus while watching a rowdy football match at a restaurant. Genie becomes the symbol of their relationship and any scene where they dote over the mollusc is wonderful.
Where Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 changes the formula from its predecessor is in its relationship dynamics. Instead of just a simple love triangle between Zixin, Shen Ran, and Qihong, this film adds the complication of Yang Yang and Paul to the mix, creating a double triangle of sorts. There are plenty of mistaken identities, chance encounters, and narrow misses that would make Shakespeare proud. There’s also a greater reliance on physical humour than last time round, as Shen Ran’s rock climbing and Paul’s swimming play heavily into the romantic subplots.
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 is not groundbreaking comedy, but it’s charming and amiable and has far more fun with romantic comedy conventions than American rom-coms without disparaging the genre. The predominantly Chinese audience I saw it with loved it, making me wonder whether a Cantonese presence is required to feel the film’s full effect. Whether that’s the case or not, a third Don’t Go Breaking My Heart would be a welcome presence at a future festival.
7 out of 10
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 (2014, Hong Kong/China)
Directed by Johnnie To; written by Wai Ka Fai, Ryker Chan, and Yu Xi; starring Louis Koo, Miriam Yeung, Gao Yuanyuan, Vic Chou, and Daniel Wu.
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 plays at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations programme.