‘Beijing Love Story’ movie review: Bright lies in a big, shiny city

China Lion Film Distribution - Songge (Liu Haoran), left, pursues aspiring cellist Xingyang (Nana Ou Yang) in one of the episodes in Chen Sicheng’s “Beijing Love Story.”

At times, it seems that the operative word in the title of “Beijing Love Story” is not “love” but “Beijing.” Although not the most acidic of satirists, writer-director-star Chen Sicheng does have some fun with the greed, lust and dishonesty of his fellow Beijingers. But this five-chapter omnibus often turns sentimental, especially in its tales of lovers who are either too young or too old for erotic gamesmanship.

It is with aggressively hormonal young adults, however, that the action begins. Chen and Tong Liya, recent newlyweds who appeared in the Chinese television series that engendered this movie, play partyers at a rave club that — like many of the locations — could be in the United States or Europe.

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Instantly smitten with the white-clad Yan (Tong), Chen (Chen) rushes to rescue her from a drinking game. He downs the multiple shots she was supposed to consume and becomes her hero, albeit a hero who’s puking profusely. Soon, the two are talking marriage.

But Yan’s mother and ex interfere, arguing that Chen is too poor to wed.

Part 2 begins with Chen’s pal, an inveterate adulterer. One night, his long-deceived wife, Lei (Yu Nan), explores her spouse’s cellphone and finds explicit video of him with another woman. Her revenge is to hit the club for a one-night stand. When that strategy misfires, she invites an older male friend, Hui (Tony Leung Ka Fai), to her hotel room.

Hui can’t stay long, he says, because he’s going on a business trip to Hong Kong. In fact, he’s headed to Greece for a tryst. That meeting with Ling (Carina Lau) doesn’t work out the way they expected and is meant to surprise the audience.

While abroad, Hui gets a call from his teenage daughter, Xingyang (Nana Ou Yang). An aspiring cellist, she wants to appear on a TV talent show with her string quintet. When dad says no, adoring classmate Songge (Liu Haoran) tries to help her make her television debut.

Finally, Songge’s grandfather (Wang Qinxiang) is back in the dating game at 66. He’s not enthusiastic, but the woman identified as his cousin (Siqin Gaowa) encourages him, for reasons that will eventually be revealed.

Aside from that sojourn in Greece, the movie is set in a Beijing that’s gleamingly upscale, remarkably free of smog and heavily Westernized: Techno, Viagra, the Smurfs and Dairy Queen all play a part in the cultural landscape. The director integrates the episodes neatly, with some playful overlaps, and fully integrates the best-known cast members: Hong Kong stars Leung and Lau. (Both appeared in Wong Kar-wai’s “Ashes of Time,” among many other films.)

Chen shows less finesse as a scripter. The movie wavers in tone, occasionally lurching into supernatural fantasy, and withholds information in a manner that’s more annoying than tantalizing. The filmmaker isn’t as duplicitous as the worst of his characters, but sometimes “Beijing Love Story” is a bit of a cheat.

★ ★

Unrated. At AMC Loews Rio 18. Contains sexual themes, drinking and brief profanity. In Mandarin with subtitles. 121 minutes.

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