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Breakup Buddies
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by Jay Seaver

"A laid-back road trip movie with some clever surprises."
4 stars

Director Ning Hao has received some attention over the last few months because the Chinese censor board finally allowed the release of "No Man's Land", a movie from 2009 that he is reluctant to discuss, whether for political reasons or because he has been busy with other projects since. But while his latest, "Breakup Buddies", is a much less controversial comedy - one which stands on its own well enough to get laughs from someone who buys a ticket based on the title with no idea that the film is in Mandarin - it's kind of amusing to see the main character also not wanting to be reminded of something from five years ago.

The man in question is Geng Hao (Huang Bo), who is reacting to his divorce in the time-honored, healthy manner of sawing everything he and his wife own in half. It's bad enough that his best friend Hao Yi (Xu Zheng) decides to get Geng Hao back on his feet by dragging him (and his dog Juice) along on a 3,000km road trip to deliver props to a film set with plans for one-night-stands - Hao Yi's specialty - along the way. While each encounter with a new woman is a new misadventure and Geng Hao is adamant that the road trip not pass through Dali, a song he recorded in his brief career as a singer has drawn a thirty-something woman ("Yolanda" Yuan Quan) with her own romantic woes to the vacation spot.

Breakup Buddies is an oddly-paced movie at times; Ning Hao takes a script credited to a dozen or so writers between the story and screenplay and lets each episode play out at a pace measured enough that the players can somewhat recognize the strangeness of the hole they've gotten themselves into this time even as they keep digging. It's somewhat questionably put together at times - there must be a deleted scenes that explains Hao Yi's gun, for instance - and a couple of swerves toward the end are kind of great despite the filmmakers seeming to stumble on where to go next before recovering. It's bumpy, but Ning and company do well in keeping a steady stream of chuckles coming without making things so broad that Geng Hao's honest heartbreak isn't out of place even if it doesn't overpower the funny stuff.

That balance is due in large part to Huang Bo, who has been Ning Hao's regular lead since at least Crazy Stone, becoming a fairly notable star in China in the process. The funnier scenes of the movie will often tends to cast him as the irritated straight man reacting to his zany friend, and he does that well, especially when taking what seems like the sensible position forces him into screwy situations. It's never a particularly long jump to Geng Bao being on the verge of a breakdown, though, and Huang gets audience empathy for that whether frazzled or really troubled. He gets relatively few changes to show us Geng Hao as a happy guy, but they work, and it's a good thing - the similarity of upbeat Geng Hao and sad Geng Hao are more important than you might expect.

Xu Zheng is his primary co-star, and he makes a good pairing, playing Hao Yi big and expressive when Geng Hao is withdrawn and doing excellent double takes when it's his turn. There's a concerned guy there as well as a clown. Yuan Quan is a different sort of complement, ebullient on the surface but faced with the needling pressures of everyone around her to pair up whether she's feeling it or not. She's a fun counterpoint to the sort of comedy Huang & Xu are doing in their segments, and quite pleasing when her story crosses with the others later on. The rest of the cast - many of them likely well-known in mainland China based on the "Guest Star" credits and the way Ning Hao seems to hold things a beat to let the audience see them playing against type - are generally pretty good in their smaller roles, with Zhou Dongyu a match for their eccentricity as Dong, a girl first met made up as a Na'vi for a stage show and Zhang Li charming enough as a classy woman who literally runs into them on the road.

She's actually funny and likable enough to briefly create a question of what to do with both her and the stuff going on in Dali, and it's a mark in the film's favor that it winds up being quite generous to all of its characters. That's not a given with this sort of movie; it could easily devolve into either a "bros before hos" thing or have segments where the entire joke is that a character is just unpleasant in some way, but it doesn't. Characters may be selfish or immature, but they tend to make bad or ridiculous decisions with believably good intentions, and when all is said and done, Ning Hao and everyone involved have actually gone pretty far out of their way to make this a villainless story, and done so in a way that is somewhat surprising and not saccharine.

Indeed, one can feel pretty good coming out of "Breakup Buddies". It's a bit stretched and wobbly at points, with a sort of eccentricity that tickles me more than it makes me laugh out loud. Maybe it relies a bit more on last-act cleverness than is wise, but it's got good moments and a good heart, and that's what this particular story can use.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27598&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/09/14 00:26:27
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User Comments

10/21/14 Terry Stebbins Great movie! Really Enjoyed! 5 stars
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  03-Oct-2014 (NR)


  03-Oct-2014 (MA)

Directed by
  Ning Hao

Written by
  Xiaojun Yue
  Aina Xing
  Xiaohang Sun

  Huang Bo
  Zheng Zu
  Yolanda Yuan
  Zhou Dongyu
  Zhang Li

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