The Road Less Traveled is Sung Kee Chiu's latest feature film, pulling him away from HK crime cinema and landing him in more sentimental territory. Straight-faced romance/drama films are not really plenty in mainstream Hong Kong and while this film probably isn't going to change that, it will still be worth your while if you're up for something slightly different. The film turns out to be a pretty solid entry in Chiu's oeuvre and a big improvement over his earlier films.
It's not to say Hong Kong doesn't do drama/romance films at all, but they usually end up in the arthouse territory while The Road Less Traveled should feel more comfortable in the mainstream. Chiu's style of direction is pretty polished and slick, not really suited for subtleties and moderation, but he still manages to find a nice balance in his latest.
The film starts when a truck driver accidentally hits a man crossing the road. The truck driver is without fault, but soon after he learns that the man he hit was to become a father. Guilt gets the best of him and he vows to help the victim's wife, keeping her little restaurant from going under. Of course things get complicated, love, guilt and twisted responsibilities start to mingle while the driver tries to protect his little secret from the widow.
The film feels a little over-scripted at times, like I said subtlety isn't Chiu's biggest strength, yet the basic premise is pretty interesting and isn't too much diluted throughout the film. There are some smaller dramatic lines that run through The Road Less Traveled, but they mostly help to flesh out the main dramatic arc. Mind though that if you're really big on plot, the film does show some cracks.
Visually there are some pretty nice things going on here. Excellent use of color and great lighting make for some very atmospheric images, which helps the film a great deal during the more emotional scenes. The night scenes in particular are exceptionally well shot. It boosts the level of involvement and nicely compensates for some of the weaker plot parts.
The soundtrack is simple and safe, but works pretty well within the film. It's easy on the ears background music that layers the film with some extra atmosphere, while doing its very best not to offend anyone along the way. A somewhat more adventurous score would've been nice, but I guess Chiu wasn't prepared to take too much risks in this area. Understandable, but still...
The acting is more than solid with veteran actors Louis Koo and Karen Mok carrying much of the film's weight. Yi Huang is a perfect third to complete the triangle. Haven't seen her act much yet, but she sure knows to pick her films. The trio does a perfectly good job bringing some extra life to the characters, which is definitely needed to get the drama off the ground.
In the final fifteen minutes Chiu loses focus a little and he probably should've cut his film 15 minutes short, but the more than decent acting performances and lush visuals keep the film from ending on a false note. I believe Chiu aimed to harvest too much drama from the story itself, rather than let the actors and direction account for most of the work. Hopefully something he will fix on his next attempt.
The thing with this film is that plot is not very high on my list of priorities. The Road Less Traveled features some awesome shots and good acting performances, which more than make up for the weaker parts in the storyline. I know that not everyone thinks like this though, so if you believe a film succeeds or fails with its plot it's probably best to just skip this one and look for something else to watch.
While not without faults, The Road Less Traveled is a pretty nice film featuring strong performances and striking visuals. It never becomes sentimental in a cheap way, nor does it become too bombastic in it's emotions. There is room for improvement no doubt, but as it is Chiu's latest is a fine film that holds more than enough qualities to cater to a large audience.