The brand of irrational exuberance found in musical comedy 52Hz I Love You is decidedly of the Mamma Mia! school, with the same campy charms and cynic-defying enthusiasm. At its best moments, the film can sweep you up in the revelry of it all, almost making you forget the flimsy plot and questionable characterisations.
Who doesn’t love a good analogy? 52Hz I Love You is full of them, beginning with the image of a lovelorn whale, the pitch of whose love song apparently hits the 52Hz frequency of the title. If that sounds quirky, well, mission accomplished for the team of screenwriters, who must have had BE QUIRKY stuck on a bathroom mirror for the duration of the writing process. Or, more likely, BE A DUCK – DUCKS ARE QUIRKY!
We’re not through with analogies, by the way. Before the film is out, love, relationships and lovers will all have been described by way of a bewildering array of analogues, from animals to bread mixes to folded paper. It’s like stepping into a parallel universe where nobody can connect two positive statements without recourse to some form of poetic obfuscation.
Perhaps this is inevitable in a plot that involves not one but two romantic songwriters. He of the whale analogy, Xiao An, lives on a probably illegal but charming rooftop apartment, where he pines for his friend Lei, a busy wedding organiser. She’s oblivious to his affections, but has her own problems as she’s falling out of love with her lazy musician boyfriend, Da He (songwriter number 2) whom she has supported financially for the last ten years while he comes up with more analogies to sing. Meanwhile, Xin, a bubbly florist is desperate for a boyfriend because, horrifyingly, she’s reached the grand age of 33 without finding true love. Whale-man and flower-woman also have more-or-less helpful mentors in the form of a worldly-wise aunt in the flower shop and Xiao An’s bakery boss. Finally, there’s a gay couple who still can’t get married legally but want to participate in a Valentine’s Day blessing ceremony.
The film begins early on the morning of Valentine’s Day and ends that same night, keeping the plotting nice and tight but at the expense of realism, as characters wend their way through the twists and turns of true love within the confines of a single day. Then again, looking for realism in a film like this is probably a mistake. Aiming to do for Taipei what Notting Hill did for London, 52Hz I Love You paints the capital in warm hues and music video sensibilities, casting a romantic haze over everything and whispering reassurances that, whatever relationship wrinkles lie ahead, everything will probably turn out fine. Nobody works as a lawyer, HR manager or accountant in this world: it’s wedding planners, flower shops, chocolate makers and rock bands all the way.
I once introduced Mamma Mia! to my partner, whose initial resistance to its charms mostly broke down under its sheer relentless enthusiasm. The spell was emphatically broken, though, when one ABBA song too far was shoehorned into the final sequence. There’s an abundance of musical numbers in 52Hz, I Love You and a few definitely seem superfluous, overly similar or over-egged with analogy (have I mentioned analogies?) . Many, though, are catchy, fun and performed with aplomb. And like Mamma Mia!, there were times that I couldn’t help smiling at the delightful ridiculousness of it all. A cavalcade of moped-riding commuters shouting Lei’s inner monologue at her while stopped at an intersection is one such moment of unabashed, joyful absurdity.
As is hopefully clear by now, the way to enjoy 52Hz I Love You is not to think too much. The annoying musician boyfriend whose “romantic” personality would probably necessitate some form of therapy in real life is merely quirky here. Meanwhile, the relationships between the main characters are less than convincing – even adjusting for the conventions of a musical – and much of the film’s warmth and humour is found between Xin and her aunt, or Xiao Fan and his boss. As a result, the eventual resolution of the main plot feels a little unsatisfying and unearned.
For all it’s faults, though, 52Hz, I Love You is a fun Sunday-afternoon sort of film and, like a well chosen bouquet of Valentine’s Day flowers, provides a welcome bit of colour and freshness. I’m sure there’s a song in that.