Terry Ng’s sickly sweet education-themed romantic melodrama might quote high literature, but certainly hasn’t learnt from it.
“I’m not a bastard! I’m not!”
I can’t imagine how hard it is to be a teacher: to hold your class’ attention all year, to have the future of your students in your hands, to be treated like a superstar and mobbed by fans as you walk the streets. Wait, what?
This is the reality that Hong Kong apparently exists in. And within that system is high school teacher Chloe Lee (Jennifer Yu), who has a good relationship with her students, but who puts a lot of pressure on herself to ensure they all get top marks during their final year exams. Adding to the stress (which doesn’t help her weak heart) is the fraught relationship she has with her father (Hugo Ng), who runs a local cram school. Chloe infiltrates this school one day, to see what her students are being taught outside of hours, and finds KK Ho (Vincent Wong), a strikingly charismatic teacher who has a huge following, and whose classes sell out in minutes like concerts. The two meet, and clash over their teaching styles, and then fall in love. Also the drama about her father resolves eventually.
OK. I can’t go on about this film, because there’s not a lot to say. The thing is, with a title as generic (and later incredibly literal) as Pretty Heart no one should be coming in expecting anything subversive or challenging. There’s a simplicity that runs throughout that means you can easily switch off your brain, check your phone throughout and miss very little. It has about three or four stories running through it, and all of them (except maybe Chloe’s relationship with her father) are never deep enough to warrant much examination. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the film had actually been repurposed from a whole season of some unreleased Netflix drama show. The pacing certainly suggests that.
There are times when it feels like it wants to say something about the education system in Hong Kong, or even the way learning and attention have changed since many people’s primary form of entertainment became six second clips online. The teachers at Lee’s school, and Ko in particular, like to turn learning into sound bites and simple hacks. Chloe is in favour of traditional methods (seen throughout as the “better” method), who wants learning to be more than just remembering the exact words needed to pass a test. She’s got a point, for sure, but as one of her students says, it never hurts to buy a guarantee.
Unfortunately, Pretty Heart isn’t too concerned with answering, or even coherently asking, these questions. It’s a syrupy romance first and foremost, and a family melodrama second. The stuff about the scholastic education system being the superior method is a distant third, though considering this film was partially funded by the Hong Kong Baptist University you’d think it would be a lot more prominent (though now the nearly universal praise and almost deification of teachers in the film makes a lot more sense).
Honestly, there isn’t a lot to recommend in Pretty Heart. The movie just isn’t very good. Its story is about as cookie cutter as you can get, with the only decent twist coming near the end when we see the reason behind Chloe’s dislike of her father. This leads to the film’s only affecting scene: that of Chloe learning the truth and finally putting the animosity to rest. Everything else is tedious, tiresome and only avoided being a slog thanks largely in part to the performances by a cast that was never phoning it in, despite every indication that they could easily get away with it.
If you’re looking for a saccharine way to waste time, I guess there are worse ways to do it. In a short 90 minutes it manages to run through every trope a TV series normally spreads out over an entire season, down to its out of nowhere product placement, and does so shamelessly – almost proudly. It was hard to hate, despite how pretty terrible it was as a piece of cinema. There’s just something innately loveable about something this innocently dumb, cheesy and way sweeter than two and a half lumps of sugar.
Verdict: Forgettable, completely inane but just captivating enough to keep my attention, Pretty Heart lacks the latter, but has buckets of the former.
Overall entertainment: 5/10
Sex: 0/10, but boy is a selfie scandalous news!
Subway: Eat fresh!
Chinese title: Apparently references that radish the dad loved so much, so that’s cute
Heart transplants: Give you the donor’s coffee habits, of course
Pretty Heart (2021)
Director: Terry Ng
Jennifer Yu – Chloe Lee
Vincent Wong – KK Ho
Hugo Ng – Kei Lee