After a tiff at the airport, Yi (Gillian Chung) ditches her toy boy and runs into her ex, Ping (William Chan) with his present girlfriend, Sze (Michelle Wai). Without a place to stay, Yi accepts their offer to crash at their new home. Despite the initial awkwardness, old passions are ignited and the accommodating Sze finds her patience stretched when it becomes clear Ping still has feelings for Yi.
SYDNEY CHINESE FILM FESTIVAL: Reality bites hard for flinty Zhou Yi (Gillian Chung) in Ex, an enjoyable but ultimately unconvincing romantic drama set around a group of self-centred Hong Kong twenty-somethings.
Like director Ben Stiller’s 1994 opus to Gen-X angst, Mak’s second feature focuses on a pretty but petulant Gen-Y girl (Chung even looks like Reality Bites’ Winona Ryder) whose life consists of flitting between romantic liaisons, expecting everything to be done for her and complaining she has no money (while steadfastly choosing a life devoid of professional responsibility).
Having been dumped at the airport by her latest fed-up boyfriend, Woody (Lawrence Chou), she imposes herself upon ex-boyfriend Ping (an insipid William Chan) and his new love, sweet but clueless Cee (Michelle Wai), splashing about their small flat as if she owned it. The film then commits an inordinate amount of time to generating a meagre amount of sexual tension between Zhou Yi and Ping, as the two reminisce about their past passions in the confined dwelling. We also get a glimpse of a spicy but brief fling that Zhou Yi enjoys with bad boy Jackie Heung, though its dramatic impact is minimal.
Overall, the film speaks to a very specific niche audience of young moviegoers whose concerns lie more with material possessions than with emotional attachments. Characters in Mak’s script that have faith in the power of true love, such as Cee and lonely muso Sol (Derek Tsang), are given short shrift and scant screen time.
Ex represents a cautious return to the screen for Gillian Chung after the 2008 web-scandal when lewd photographs derailed her career trajectory. The actress plays sexy-cute at times, but conspicuously avoids any onscreen naughtiness (save a coy, sudsy bath scene and some unconvincing kissing). Mak affords her some nice exchanges and insightful musings, but dramatically, the film amounts to considerably less than the sum of its parts. The arc travelled by Zhou Yi – from airport food court brat to airport departure lounge young woman – feels shallow, and more concerned with image than insight.
Or maybe that’s the downside of focusing your film on characters without depth. Heiward Mak is a fine director; in collaboration with her editor Yuen-ting Yip, she creates a strong sense of scene and distinctive film language (albeit with an unsubtle colour palette). Given a deeper pool to swim in, she’ll one day make a fine film.