There is a lot to like in Netflix’s Chinese film, Delicious Romance. It thrives on a good blend of emotions, using filmmaking techniques innovatively to bring out the complexities of the characters. It looks at modern relationships from the perspective of three childhood friends who are now working and struggling in their professional lives while trying to make sense of their relationships with each other and with the world. The film comes alive right from the first scene, setting the stage for a promising ride with the three women. It is remarkable to tell a story of multiple characters while managing to go into the depths of their hearts and minds to bring out the nuances and, on top of that, keep it all together with a tightly-knit screenplay. It is filled with frames that are revealing in their representation and actions that widely reflect characters’ emotional states. We have seen films of female friendships a dozen times before but what Delicious Romance does differently is that it arranges some similar troupes on a new palette, thereby bringing home an altogether fresh flavor of comedy and romance to cook up a visual delicacy.
Delicious Romance employs smart storytelling; there are no sloppy dialogues or scenes written in an old-fashioned way. Each scene aims to bring the moment alive by putting the characters in difficult situations and building rich subtexts to do that. It opens with an annual function at a school where we meet our three protagonists as fourth-graders before they go on stage for their performance. One of them, Fang Xin, makes a comment about how they will remain friends forever and try to resolve any conflicts that may arise in the future. The other two are more practical in their responses and dismiss her sentimentality. As the curtains are pulled back and they start performing, all the adults in the room, consumed by boredom until this point, gaze at the stage with their eyes wide open. The song on which they dance has inappropriate lyrics. And the stage is set as we go on a wild journey with these three girls. With just this brief scene in the beginning, we get a whiff of what to expect from Delicious Romance, and then all that has to be done is fill in the frames with more such instances that live up to that promise. It requires some restraint and focus on staying in the plane of your world and not losing the crux of the feeling you want to evoke in each scene. The makers here successfully maintain an even tone through an interplay of wit and emotions, knowing when to give a release and when to take a pause. The visuals are neatly filled with colors and environments that let us into the mental world of the characters through their physical presence in them. Fang Xin is pregnant and has an overprotective boyfriend who stops her from being at her fullest. The place where she lives goes on to become stuffy at a point in Delicious Romance, signifying the state of her mind, which is filled with thoughts about her marriage and some stress at work. Moreover, her house also starts dripping, as if symbolically representing her own life, which is on the verge of falling apart. There are more thoughtful devices used that make the space of characters alive and connect it to their emotions.
However, it does suffer by stuffing multiple things together, and it becomes difficult to keep track of the many things we are supposed to be feeling alongside the three characters. Layered up with such nicely executed scenes that have an inherent richness in the mise-en-scene, the writing falls prey to some set pieces, due to which there is little left for surprise. The entire narrative thread about Liu Jing and the chef she meets on a dating app deserves a film of its own. Her story seems the most provocative of the three, as she is a silent person who seems to be carrying a lot more inside than she is actually showing. On top of that, Li Chun’s performance adds more layers of mystery to her character, making us want to know more about what could have been an adorable story. What it becomes now still manages to pull at the heartstrings but doesn’t do complete justice to her motivations. At the center of the trio is Xia Meng, who is the one planning everything that they do and making it seem that their entire lives revolve around her. Her interactions with her boyfriend make for an interesting reflection on understanding companionship and love. Each of them represents different ideas about love and how it is meant to ease our way of living and not make it more difficult. All of this is done without sounding preachy but with the embellishment of thoughtful aesthetics that keep things exciting as they unfold.
Delicious Romance has a pleasant voice that charms you all the way. It makes your heart beat with the brilliant chemistry of the protagonists and the subtly placed observations on modern love. While it traps itself into templates in the second act, there is so much to root for in the characters. Filmmaking is like cooking, where you keep the flavor intact and do not let it be affected by any other ingredient being added in excess. Just add a pinch of something more, and your dish will not be remembered. In films, it is so satisfying to see all the elements adding to the brilliance on screen and doing their bit to evoke feelings out of everything. That way, Delicious Romance is a pleasantly fulfilling dish.