Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 is plotted in zany, clown-car-swerving-through-traffic zig-zags, veering from coincidence to coincidence and from misunderstanding to misunderstanding toward a finale that one-ups The Graduate by having the would-be suitor free-climb a skyscraper to disrupt a wedding on the top floor. It features multiple mistaken identities, overlapping love triangles, plenty of spit-takes, a food fight, an accidental electrocution, a psychic octopus, and a character who gets a severe nosebleed every time he ogles a bustline. It’s deliberately silly and soppy and so convoluted that a point-by-point synopsis would resemble a cat’s cradle—and yet, somehow, it’s also one of the squarest, stiffest things Johnnie To has directed since the 1990s.
At this point in his career, To is pretty much incapable of making an out-and-out bad movie, but here, he occasionally comes close to making an impersonal one. Simply put, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 doesn’t pop like a Johnnie To flick. Shooting in a digital format for the first time, and without his signature Technovision anamorphic lenses, To seems to have been thrown for a loop; his sense of space and rhythm are off, and his compositions are uncharacteristically flat and conservative. Compared to the average American rom-com, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 looks polished and pretty; compared to the average Johnnie To movie, it looks totally gormless, and its flashbacks to the first film—which is about as sublime as modern romantic comedies get—do it no favors.
Without To’s usual dazzle and know-how, what ends up getting foregrounded is the intentionally messy script, co-written by Ryker Chan, Yu Xi, and To’s producing partner and occasional co-director, Wai Ka-Fai. (Chan and Yu are recent junior members of To’s personal screenwriting army, called the Milkyway Creative Team; all three worked on the scripts to his previous two features, Blind Detective and Drug War.) The original Don’t Go Breaking My Heart was set against the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with investment firm employee Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) trying to pick between flashy, philandering rock-climbing aficionado Shen Ran (Louis Koo) and sweet-natured architect Qihong (Daniel Wu)—a no-brainer love triangle complicated by the movie’s intricate sense of visual design, which used the glass-and-steel architecture of Hong Kong’s financial district to create an endless series of mini-stages and frames-within-the-frame.
The sequel is set in 2012, with Zixin preparing for her wedding to Qihong, who spends most of the movie off-screen, overseeing a building site in Suzhou. The not-even-remotely reformed Shen Ran re-enters the picture, and, through a series of events that will not be recounted here—but which involve one character’s parallel parking skills, another’s belief in the power of bad decision-making, and, again, a psychic octopus—ends up vying with Zixin’s puppy-dog brother, Paul (Vic Chou), for the affections of her boss, Yang Yang (Miriam Yeung), all the while still pining for the one that got away.
Despite its manic plotting and the constant see-sawing of its romances, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 lacks a consistent sense of energy, hitting its stride only during the high kitsch climax and a stand-out, mid-film sequence in which the flight cancellations occasioned by Hurricane Sandy cause all of Shen Ran’s flight-attendant mistresses to show up at his office at once—a farce that, in the style of the original film, is framed in part through floor-to-ceiling windows, which make the office resemble a cutaway theatrical set. The thing about great directors is that even their lesser efforts can have flashes of brilliance.