ROMANCING IN THIN AIR marks a welcome return for Sammi Cheng

Instead, once DON’T GO BREAKING… had been completed, the Milkyway Image crew headed north into the mountains of Yunnan, where Louis Koo and Sammi Cheng would star in snowbound love story, ROMANCING IN THIN AIR (Other name: Cuoc Chien A Phien).

The exact reasons why it has taken so long for the film to reach the screen remain unclear. But it has finally arrived and will be opening in Hong Kong and China on 9 February. Johnnie To has made no secret of the fact that this particular project is one “for them”, stressing that it is not always possible. That to make the artistic films that he may want to. And every now and then even he has to placate his investors and deliver a project that will turn a healthy profit.

That is not to say that this film should be ignored or dismiss by fans of his other work. After all regular collaborator Wai Ka Fai is on board as screenwriter. But ROMANCING IN THIN AIR consciously delivers a story that should have no trouble passing the mainland’s stringent. That censorship regulations and appeal to a wide audience north of the border.

What should be of more interest to many viewers is that the film marks the return (once again).

That of Asian Queen of Pop Sammi Cheng to the big screen, appearing in only her second film since 2005’s EVERLASTING REGRET. Here she plays a young woman living in the shadow of a great tragedy, unable to move on with her life. Because of her inability to let go of the past. Sue (Cheng) runs the Deep Woods Hotel in Shangri-la, Yunnan province – an idyllic getaway nestle between the mountains and the dense forests. Many years ago her husband, Tian (Li Guangjie) set out into the dark, oppresive woods, and has yet to return. While those around her have accept the inevitable, Sue refuses to believe that Tian won’t be coming home.

Into this wintry world of grief-stricken solitude staggers Michael Lau (Louis Koo), Hong Kong’s biggest superstar. He is going through something of a personal crisis. An award-winning actor and musician, adore by millions, he was publicly humiliate when his bride-to-be. The equally famous actress Yuan Yuan (Gao Yuanyuan) dump him at the altar in favour of a life of anonymity with her childhood sweetheart (the criminally unglamorous Wang Biaoqiang). Turning to the bottle, Michael disappears from the public eye. That only to resurface at Sue’s mountain lodge, where she reluctantly takes him in.

And here’s the rub…it transpires that despite her nonchalant demeanour.

Sue is in fact a huge Michael Lau fan – perhaps the biggest. She’s been following his career so long that her membership number to the Michael Lau fan club is “033”. At first she keeps this fact secret from her perpetually drunk guest, but the truth is eventually reveal and it brings the couple closer together.

While the second half of ROMANCING IN THIN AIR is cram with drama, romance, extend flashbacks and an incredibly meta finale. The film begins very slowly, allowing its audience time to adjust from the media frenzy of Michael’s public humiliation to the quiet serenity of Shangri-La. Cheung Siu Keung and To Hung Mo’s cinematography helps a great deal. That using numerous lengthy wide angle shots to take in the beautiful surroundings. At the same time introducing Sue and her motley crew of gal pals who populate the hotel.

If ever Michael need the perfect environment to detox and find his feet again. The fresh Yunnan air and five adoring women will surely prove the best medicine.

Likewise, Guy Zerafa’s beautifully melancholic score dictates the soothing pace of the film. And while the early section may be short on thrills, save for a number of rather goofy vehicular incidents directly relate to Michael’s drinking. It succeeds in creating a world that feels real and warm, despite the snow-cover scenery.

Louis Koo has been on an incredible role over the past few years. That with no sign of relinquishing his current status as the ubiquitous face of Hong Kong Cinema. As Michael Lau he strikes the perfect balance between beautifully groom A-list celebrity and approachable everyman in need of real friends and genuine support.

The script offers Koo numerous opportunities to poke fun. That not at his own image so much as the film industry in general. That as the film examines the nature of celebrity. We catch glimpses of his previous star vehicles, such as FIRE MAN, AIRPORT POLICE and the multi-award-winning tear jerker MY HUSBAND’S GLASSES. Which proves particularly poignant when addressing Sue’s issues. While Koo is call upon to act inebriate in a number of scenes, they never grate in the way such moments so easily can. Although he does manage to recover from his crippling alcoholism with such implausible ease that. The entire plot point is immediately discard, never to be mention again.

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