One of the interesting issues raised in Barbara Wong's Break Up Club is a hypothetical morality scenario: would you be willing to break up another couple to get your loved one back? After Joe (Jaycee Chan) is dumped by his girlfriend Flora (Fiona Sit), he tells his story on BreakUpClub.asia, a magical website that helps people make up with their lovers, as long as they input the name of a person whose relationship will be broken up as a result. Desperate to reunite with Flora, he sacrifices his best friend's relationship and gets his wish.
Director Barbara Wong, playing herself in the mockumentary portion of the film, is fascinated by Joe and gives him a camera to shoot his story. Things don't go as well as Joe hopes, because even though they are together again, the conflicts between him are Flora remain unresolved. Flora is constantly disappointed with Joe's immaturity, and the arrival of a Japanese graffiti artist Hayama (Hayama Hiro), as one of Flora's clients at work, intensifies her belief that Joe is far from her image of an ideal boyfriend.
During the shooting of her seventh film Break Up Club in 2009, her two lead actors Jaycee Chan and Fiona Sit fell in love in real life, which adds an extra layer to the subtext of the film and the audience attention to the chemistry between the stars onscreen. The romantic pairing was successful. Jaycee Chan gives an amazing performance as Joe, a childish, anxiety-ridden young man who is unable to meet the high expectations that Flora expects of him, and Break Up Club gives Chan a role that allows him to emerge from beneath his superstar father's shadow and be judged on his own merits.
Much of the love story is told through the use of handheld cameras. The documentary style gives the story emotional power, because it creates a stronger sense of reality and intimacy than what we're used to seeing in slick fiction films. Because of this, it was easy to relate to the characters and get sucked into their passionate exchanges. The twists and turns of the plot keeps the audience in suspense, and it's not until the end that we realize the clues we've been given throughout the film. For example, we see Joe pick up an anonymous phone call, only to find out later that the call is from Joe's best friend after he saw Flora with another man.
[Spoiler alert] The only complaint I have about the film is the happy ending that seemed to be tagged onto the end. It almost feels like an accident when Flora changes her mind about Joe in the last 20 seconds in the film. All the suspense Wong had built up in the story, designed to contrast the discrepancy between reality and fantasy, seemed to lead to an important realization -- that even though Joe got Flora back, he could not stay with her forever because their inherently different values and priorities in life would drive them apart. However, the last-minute happy ending left me feeling disappointed, as if the characters took a turn that contradicted what the film had been trying to say. [End spoiler alert]
Wong, a graduate from Tisch School of the Arts of New York University, has directed several critically-acclaimed films, including Perfect Wedding, Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat, and Women's Private Parts, which won Best International Feature Film at the 2001 New York International Independent Film Festival. She was also a nominee for the Most Outstanding Young Director in 2002 Hong Kong Film Awards.
Break Up Club was released in Hong Kong in June 2010, and it played at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in March.
For more capsule reviews of SFIAAFF:
SFIAAFF 2011: Documentaries
SFIAAFF 2011: Asian American Films
SFIAAFF 2011: Asian Films