Dir: Peter Ho-sun Chan.HK-Ch-Malay. 2005. 108mins.

The seeming Chineseanswer to Moulin Rouge, Perhaps Love is a lavish butinsubstantial musical love story with pan-Asian cinema and music stars Zhou Xun(Suzhou River, The Little Chinese Seamstress) and TakeshiKaneshiro (Chungking Express, House Of Flying Daggers) in theNicole and Ewan roles.

It's an odd mix: arthouse inits three-strand film-within-a-film plot and open ending, much more traditionalin its choreography (by Bollywood supremo Farah Khan) and music, which eschewsoriental models for the full-on Andrew Lloyd-Webber experience.

It is neither as innovativenor as outrageous as Luhrmann's neo-musical: then again, high camp never playswell with Chinese audiences and would also likely run into problems withauthorities.

Perhaps Love should perform strongly in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Koreaand the burgeoning mainland Chinese market - one of its key targets - while thepresence of Kaneshiro will stir interest in Japan.

But outside of theseterritories, the obvious stumbling block of Chinese-language songs - whoselyrics were only poorly rendered in the subtitles of the version that previewedat Venice - will confine the film's audience to specialist and niche slots.

A noirish opening sequence,narrated by a melancholy observer called Montage (Korean star Ji Jin-Hee)plunges us straight into the musical-within-a-musical that gives the temporallyfragmented plot a veneer of present-day cohesion. Hot new heartthrob Lin JiangDong (Kaneshiro) and established diva Sun Na (Zhou Xun) have been paired in anew musical with a 1930s Shanghai circus setting, directed by legendaryfilm-maker Nie Wen (Jacky Cheung).

Lin and Sun knew each other10 years before, in Beijing, when he was a hard-up film student and she was abar singer with a waif-like insouciance that seems modelled on the GiuliettaMasina of Fellini's La Strada. But their platonic love affair is spikedwhen the ambitious Sun leaves Lin for director Nie, who she knows can make herfamous.

The present-day actionswitches back and forth with some elegance between the musical - in which thelove triangle is reproduced, with Nie Wen playing a circusmaster, Sun histrapeze artist lover, and Lin the man from her past - and the behind-the-scenesdrama, in which a still infatuated Lin tries to remind Sun of their affair, andher bar-singer past, which she has cancelled from her official biography andmental hard disk.

The third timeline - aflashback to that earlier affair - kicks in when Lin persuades Sun to travel toBeijing with him to refresh her memory (these scenes, set mostly in a disusedwarehouse, are shot by Chris Doyle, while the rest of the lush cinematographyis the work of Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger cinematographee Peter Pau).

The song-and-dance numbersare a grab-bag of references and borrowings, from Busby Berkeley to the UmbrellasOf Cherbourg to Cultural Revolution chic (distilled in the donkey jacketand comrade cap worn by Lin in his embedded musical role); while the finaltrapeze sequence takes us back to 1950s circus movies like The Greatest ShowOn Earth.

But though there isundoubted chemistry in the Zhou Xun-Kaneshiro pairing, Perhaps Lovesuffers from problems with its plotting and the post-modern nature of itsreceding mirrors structure. In coming on all Wong Kar-wai, it pulls the Rodgersand Hammerstein punch of the true, no-holds-barred romantic musical.

Production companies
Ruddy Morgan
Applause Pictures Production
Astro/Shaw (BHD)
Television Broadcasts
Stellar Megamedia Group
Stellar Mega Film (Beijing)
Shanghai Film Group Corporation
Cina Film Co-production Corporation

International sales
Celestial Pictures

Executive producers
Andre Morgan
Qin Hong
Ren Zhong Lun

Andre Morgan
Peter Ho-sun Chan

Aubrey Lam
Raymond To

Peter Pau
Chris Doyle

Production design
Yee Chung Man

Wenders Li
Kong Chi Leung

Original songs
Peter Kam
Leon Ko

Main cast
Takeshi Kaneshiro
Zhou Xun
Jacky Cheung
Ji Jin-hee