The Ex-Files (前任攻略) made for a much more light-hearted review after spending a rather depressing weekend with My Old Classmate. Here, Tian Yusheng brings us a comedic love story between two lovers who meet at their respective exes’ wedding together. K-pop star Han Geng plays the role of Meng Yun, a hard-working professional who realizes that he is no longer a “young” guy anymore at the age of 31, while Helen Yao plays the tender and innocent Xia Lu.
Ex-Files is set in Beijing, where I spent a good part of my childhood. It was particularly amusing to see the JW Marriott Beijing featured so heavily in the movie, likely due to a sponsorship; it’s one of my favorite hotels in the world and I stay there often – John Kerry and Hilary Clinton do too. I would be delighted then, to see someone like Xia Lu working in the hotel.
Meng is a rather comical character; he is known among his friends for being a womanizing “legend” and has a litany of ex-girlfriends to prove it. His “love at first sight” meeting with Xia quickly escalates into a heated relationship, in more ways than one, as they travel through the beds of various holiday resort destinations.
After their return we are introduced to Meng’s long-time friend and business partner, Luo Qian. Meng is surprised to find out that Luo is now involved with an older and much more successful man, Zhao Ming, and questions himself as to why he feels like he was intruded upon with the arrival of Zhao. Unfortunately, Ex-Files does not pursue this storyline much further, instead focusing on the relationship between Meng and Xia. This is a shame, because I see great potential for the deep and long-lasting friendship dynamic between Meng and Luo developing into a personal challenge for Meng and his feelings for Xia, which on the surface appear less deeply-rooted. Although this is touched upon later in the film, it is towards the end and does not leave ample room for development.
Meng and Xia continue their lives as a couple until one of Xia’s ex-boyfriends, a Korean named Park, enters the picture on their 100-day anniversary, by gifting her a pot of kimchi. At dinner, one of Meng’s ex-girlfriends appears as well; while these two encounters were more whimsical at first, the repeated appearance of Meng’s ex-girlfriends leads Xia to question just how much affection Meng has for her, and whether Meng is still involved with any of his ex-girlfriends. At the same time, Meng questions whether Xia still has feelings for Park, as Park is particularly diligent in his efforts to win back Xia, much to her dismay.
Although largely whimsical and laughter-eliciting, Ex-Files does try to convey a deeper story about love, relationships and commitment. As best put by Luo, people “often dream that the person they marry will be the one that they love the most,” but this does not always happen in reality. Some parts of the film can be quite dramatic and intense, even dark at times, but this adds layers of complexity and emotion to what would otherwise be an even less note-worthy movie.
Overall Ex-Files was a fun romantic comedy to watch with enough flavor and dramatic substance to keep the story from devolving into a typical chick-flick. However, the story felt unfinished and the ending felt rushed, as many sub-plots, most prominently the role of Luo Qian, were not explored thoroughly despite being introduced as such a significant aspect of Meng’s life. Though disappointing and not deserving of any accolades of excellence like some of my favorites, Ex-Files could work as a movie-night film that will bring light-hearted laughter to some.
The Ex-Files (Chinese: 前任攻略)—China. Directed by Tian Yusheng. First released 2014. Running time 1hr 47min. Starring Han Geng, Helen Yao, Ryan Zheng, Ban Jiajia, and Wang Likun.