PARIS HOLIDAY (2015) review

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A film for people who think there’s nothing more romantic than cycling in front of the Eiffel Tower, James Yuen’s Paris Holiday (which briefly shot not 100 meters from where yours truly lives) stars Louis Koo as Chun-Kit, a late professional bloomer who arrives in Paris to manage a wine label for a wealthy Hong Kong businessman (Anthony Chan). There, fellow expatriate Michael (Alex Fong) sets him up in a flat share with Xiao-Min (Amber Kuo) an art students who’s still a human wreck from being dumped by the man she thought was her soulmate. In order not too have her feel threatened by a man’s presence, Michael asks Chun-Kit to pretend he’s gay. The cohabitation gets off to a disastrous start, as Chun-Kit has to deal with Xiao-Min’s erratic hygiene and behavior; but after nearly leaving, he decides to stay and help her get back on her feet. A tall order, but he’s just rebounded from a painful break-up himself, and the two soon find themselves in a strange place between love and friendship.

The first 2 minutes of Paris Holiday leave no doubt as to the level of originality and subtlety we’ll be dealing with for the next 110 minutes (a punishing runtime for a fluffy romantic comedy), as we’re treated to shots of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower over a treacly accordion waltz. James Yuen obviously had a checklist of Paris clichés to unironically follow: said tower features in the background to nearly every scene and is used repeatedly for transition shots to almost sickening effect, traffic is non-existent and replaced by a utopian prevalence of bicycles, baguettes are an indispensable prop, and all Parisians are white. Well, except for the main characters, whose flashes of French-speaking are a phonetic delight. This Paris is no more than 100 square meters-wide, and if you step right out of it you’ll find yourself in a picturesque castle surrounded by sunny vineyards. There’s nothing wrong with favoring pretty locales and not featuring too much social realism in a romantic comedy, but the extent to which James Yuen’s film polishes the French capital gives it a strong sense of fakeness.

This rote reliance on postcard clichés is echoed in the film’s sense of romance, with a wealth of fateful misunderstandings, last-minute dashes to wherever the person to whom you need to declare your love is, and dialogues that are the most shameless string of platitudes we’ve heard in a film in a while. And yet, Paris Holiday remains pleasant, mainly thanks to Louis Koo, whose gravitas, unforced appeal and growing subtlety as an actor give the film whatever poignancy it can muster. He also has good chemistry with Amber Kuo, who’s quite good in the kind of paradoxical character that’s cute, quirky and endearing onscreen but would be an insufferable, demented egomaniac if transposed in real life. And the film’s focus on the unfathomable relationship between friendship and love, while nothing new, does offer a few passable insights. Alex Fong and Janice Man also provide good support in roles that might actually be more interesting than the lead ones. And it’s when Paris Holiday is more comedic than romantic than it fares the best, with Amber Kuo’s creepy behavior in the beginning, and her initial odd couple relationship with Louis Koo providing a few healthy – and voluntary – laughs.

Long Story Short: As cliché in its depiction of Paris as it is in its romantic plot and dialogues, the overlong Paris Holiday is barely saved by Louis Koo and Amber Kuo’s offbeat chemistry. **

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