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Review:  ‘But Always’ turns romance into a syrupy mess

A scene from "But Always."
(Handout)

The Chinese import “But Always” is such a mawkish romantic melodrama you half expect one of its ill-fated leads to declare, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But that would be positively profound compared with most of what passes for sentiment here.

Spanning several decades in the lives of two longtime friends — from their childhood and young adulthood in Beijing to a more passionate reconnection later in New York City — the film is certainly earnest in its attempt to create a kind of lushly ardent mini-saga. Unfortunately, writer-director Snow Zou lays on the treacle — and the tragedy — with such a heavy hand it sucks all the air out of the potentially poignant story.

As star-crossed lovers Anran (Gao Yuanyuan) and Zhao Yongyuan (Nicholas Tse), the leads are model-beautiful performers who know their way around a soulful gaze. But their latter-day characters (she’s a graduate student turned tour guide, he’s a thriving entrepreneur) are never warm or engaging enough to draw us into their soapy journey.

Zou has surrounded the characters with such a piled-on string of woes — poverty, jail time, dead parents, a miscarriage, a crippling car accident and much more — it becomes almost laughable. The calamity of 9/11 ends up factoring in too.

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Hokey dialogue, a syrupy score, a corny use of slow motion and a slew of contrived or undercooked plot developments further sink a movie whose appeal may elude even die-hard romantics.

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‘But Always’

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. In Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles.

Playing: At AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; AMC Puente Hills 20, City of Industry; AMC Tustin 14 at the District.


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