NEW YORK NEW YORK (2016) short review

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The first film of cinematographer Luo Dong, New York New York was produced by Stanley Kwan and is set in the early-nineties; it tells of the on-again, off-again love between the ambitious head bellboy (Ethan Juan) of a luxury hotel in Shanghai and an equally ambitious young woman (Du Juan), as they cross paths with a shady businessman (Michael Miu) who has plans to start a luxury hotel in New York. It’s hard to be more specific about the film’s plot, because while it’s always quite clear, it’s also spectacularly vacuous and free of tension or emotion. The film always looks pretty, sometimes even quite stylish in its nightly, neon-lit scenes, but it is a relentlessly boring affair, following bland, unlikable characters as they struggle to take uninteresting decisions and carry around ill-defined and uninvolving emotional baggage. Countless forgettable subplots fill out the film, with an occasional voice-over narration laboring to give some sort of tragic sweep to what unfolds languidly onscreen. Ethan Juan and Du Juan make for a strikingly bland couple, their complete lack of charisma or chemistry as actors adding insult to the injury of their poorly-written characters: the former is only remarkable for the stupidity of his decisions (and lack thereof), while the latter is a dead-eyed combination of affected coldness and risible emotional brittleness – there’s an unwittingly hilarious scene where a shrewish rival throws her drink in her face, and she reacts by quaking like the shell-shocked victim of a terrorist attack. What little weight the film possesses is down to veterans Michael Miu and Cecilia Yip, whose strong presence is constantly wasted in favor of the tedious leads. *1/2

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