Ex Files 3: The Return of the ExesReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/02/18 19:32:22
Maybe, if I had been able to stream the first "Ex Files" movie before seeing the second a couple years ago (a thing I usually at least try to do before a sequel pops up in local theaters), I would have enjoyed this more, and not just for the sake of familiarity. Quite the opposite, in fact - it was the presumption of any sort of connection between the films beyond the people involved and some character names that led to my disappointment. I don't know that looking at this as an anthology series makes the third entry a whole lot better, but it does make it just a sort of bland break-up movie, not something which breaks previous entries to no positive end.As it opens, entrepreneur Meng Yun (Han Geng) and Lu Jia ("Kelly" Yu Wen-wen), his girlfriend of five years, are fighting, for what's not exactly the first time. Lu Jia means it, though, leaving the apartment to crash with her friend Ding Dian (Xeng Mengxue). Dian has been with Meng Yun's business partner and best friend Yu Fei ("Ryan" Zheng Kai) for a couple of years, and their relationship winds up getting dragged down with their friends'. Initially, the ladies mope while the guys go out to enjoy their new bachelorhood, but while Yu Fei and Ding Dian keep finding excuses to meet for "closure", Meng Yun and Lu Jia each seem to be waiting for the other to make the first move toward reconciliation.
"Waiting" isn't exactly the most exciting thing to build a movie around, especially since this one is already kind of on shaky ground from it's opening where both Meng Yun and Lu Jia are making claims about how much harder men or women have it. The filmmakers edit it nicely to make it play out like an argument even though they're eventually shown to just be complaining to Yu Fei and Ding Dian, but it winds up playing as the most generic griping imaginable. The steps they wind up going through are also not terribly exciting - the guys start hitting the clubs, Lu Jia goes on the beach vacation Meng Yun promised but never delivered on by herself - to the point where, when another character points out that these are the known stages of how men and women deal with the aftermath of a breakup, a viewer may be inclined to nod and ask when the less-predictable bits are coming.
After all, even if there's a kernel of truth to these cliches, they don't tell us a lot about Meng Yun and Lu Jia individually, and that's part of why realizing the film is not a sequel is kind of strange: It seems to be relying on some sort of audience familiarity because it never does much to establish that this is a relationship that's been going on a while aside from initial assertions. Writer/director Tian Yu-sheng and his co-writers will flash back to sometime near the beginning of the pair's relationship if they need a reason for someone to feel especially glum is needed, but it winds up feeling like a a cheat, like the audience should have known this going into the scene and felt the pang of memory along with the characters, rather than getting a hastily-added explanation where the strings the filmmakers are trying to pull are too obvious.
It also means that Han Geng and Kelly Yu are tasked with a lot more heavy lifting than they should be, and while the story is thin as can be, they do a decent job with the material they're given - the reasons Lu Jia is going to break down and cry in this movie are kind of crappy, but Yu at least does it well, while Han Geng frets capably. They probably have their best and most incisive scene near the start in a bit of silent comedy that's got a pointed payoff as she gathers her suitcases and he pretends not to be curious as to what she's doing; there's a good breakup story tucked into scenes like that. Han doesn't fare quite as well when he's doing post-breakup partying stuff; Ryan Zheng seems to be better at that sort of broad comedy, and he's got a good partner in Zeng Mengxue when they get to play of each other as too good a pair for someone else's drama to keep them apart.I'm tempted to give this another shot someday if the series streams on an easily accessible site (the brief time Chinese movies are in American theaters makes revisiting something I didn't much like a hard sell); maybe going in and treating it as both a non-sequel and something a bit more serious than the zany comedy of its predecessor will have it leaving a better impression. I suspect it would improve but not all the way to "good"; too many of its problems come from not having enough going on by itself for that to make it too much better.
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