Finding Mr. Right (China, 2013)
One of the biggest box office hits of 2013 to date at the mainland China box office, Finding Mr. Right has been seen as a game changer of sorts in terms of audience trend as it is the first romantic-comedy to succeed at such a level since Love is Not Blind (2011). Following the record breaking returns of the bawdier Lost in Thailand (2012), and the declining popularity of Hollywood spectacles, its commercial performance has been taken as a sign that the multiplex crowd is gravitating towards local films with cultural resonance after several years of flocking to imported franchise pictures. This star vehicle for Tang Wei has capably fought off the heavy artillery of A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) and G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013), although elements of its narrative show the debt that China owes to the Hollywood studio system in terms of developing its own crowd-pleasing product. Finding Mr. Right mostly takes place in the United States, and Nora Ephron’s enduring date movie Sleepless in Seattle (1993) is directly referenced by director Xue Xiaolu’s to cultivate a more localised form of romantic fantasy, one that comments on some of the questionable aspects of lifestyle expectation in modern China, but is predictably able to resolve such issues en route to the heart-warming conclusion. As with its Hollywood model, Finding Mr. Right largely relies on its central romantic pairing (Tang and Wu Xiubo) as they inhabit familiar character arcs, albeit ones that are informed by China’s shifting social-economic standards.
While it is hard to imagine the ever-charming Tang being an unlikeable screen presence, she comes close in the first act of Finding Mr. Right. Tang plays Jiajia, the mistress of a wealthy businessman who temporarily relocates to the United States when she falls pregnant with his child. The father-to-be is also the subject of a criminal investigation due to his shady business activities, meaning that Jiajia must spend her pregnancy overseas so as not to attract additional negative attention. Having selected Seattle as her destination based on her love of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romance, Jiajia is picked up at the airport by Frank (Wu), the driver for the maternity centre at which she has arranged to stay. When her first choice of residence is raided by the police, Jiajia is taken to a back-up option run by the Taiwanese caretaker Mrs Huang (Elaine Jin). With her expensive suitcases, designer clothes, carefully applied make-up and claims that she has a lot of followers on Weibo, the materialistic Jiajia does not initially mix well with the proprietor or the other guests. However, she does spend time with Frank, eventually learning that he has a young daughter, was previously a well-regarded doctor in Beijing, and that he has been divorced by his wife who traded a career in practising medicine to get into the more lucrative pharmaceutical business. When her line of credit is cut-off, Jiajia realises that it is time to readjust her selfish attitude as she prepares for motherhood.
As a mainstream entertainment aimed at China’s multiplex audience, Finding Mr. Right is interesting in terms of its positioning of the United States as a place of escape or sanctuary. Chi Ying Chan’s bright cinematography ensures that Seattle is framed as an inviting place, complete with a happy immigrant population, although interactions with local authorities prompt the threat of deportation. The pregnant ladies that are staying with Mrs Huang mostly relax at the house, but take advantage of the post-2008 economic downturn by purchasing items that they can sell for twice as much once they return home. China’s divisive value system is illustrated by the differences between Jiajia and Frank, with the former being happy to have a man who can buy her things, even if he is otherwise attached, while the latter has chosen to sacrifice career goals for his daughter, always behaving in a dutiful manner that his ex-wife characterised as ‘boring’. Much of the humour comes from the development of their relationship, particularly when Jiajia tests her parenting skills by bonding with Frank’s daughter on a sight-seeing trip around the city, while the general message seems to be that it is perfectly fine to covet nice items and mobility, providing that you pay for them yourself. Finding Mr. Right is a sufficiently pleasant confection that will probably lead to a run of imitations, even if its occasionally awkward juggling of Jiajia’s requirements for true happiness prevent it from completely achieving the feel-good euphoria that is sought throughout.