You don’t watch a rom-com because you want to be surprised. Cosy familiarity is a big part of the genre’s appeal; jump scares and shocking plot twists, not so much.
What counts is how all those familiar elements – sassy best friends, makeover montages, the not-quite-right suitors pushed aside along the way – are put together. And while Five Blind Dates leans a little too hard on the cliches at first, once the characters settle in, this becomes a film where familiarity breeds a lot of fun.
Life for Chinese-Australian Lia (Shuanh Hu, who co-wrote the script with Nathan Ramos-Park; Shawn Seet directs) hasn’t quite worked out how she planned. Yes, she’s followed her dream to set up an artisanal tea house in Sydney. But she’s been running it at a loss since day one and her gay bestie-slash-sole staff member Mason (Ilai Swindells) is clearly hanging around more for love than money.
She’s been staying afloat using the seed money left to her by her grandmother and that’s about to run out; a hard swerve to serving bubble tea is not on the cards no matter how rough things get.
Back in Townsville, her sister Alice (Tiffany Wang) is about to get married. Lia’s the maid of honour, which – according to the 20-page wedding guide Alice sent out – requires her to do a lot of things she’s not keen on. Including spending time with best man Richard (Yoson An), her former best friend turned boyfriend turned ex.
But there’s also a traditional fortune-teller she has to deal with, who makes an ominous prediction. Her love life and her career are intertwined, and if she’s to succeed at one she has to succeed at the other. But there’s good news too: she will find her true love on one of her next five dates.
So if she wants to take her soulmate to the wedding she’d better get a move on – luckily her divorced parents Jing (Renee Lim) and Xien (Tzi Ma) have a few candidates in mind …
As its screamingly obvious who Lia is going to end up with by the 20-minute mark, the whole ‘five blind dates’ deal isn’t exactly a roller-coaster ride of suspense. Fortunately, this doesn’t pretend that the outcome here is anything but pre-ordained: rather, the five dates are used as a chance for Lia to explore what she doesn’t want out of a relationship (and to address the problems preventing her from being in one).
It’s a big help that the dates are also presented as realistic options rather than comedy pit stops. Super-smooth businessman Apollo Wang (Desmond Chiam) makes a great offer that just lacks heart; teacher Ezra (Jon Prasida) would be perfect but for one tiny flaw.
And while Curtis (Rob Collins) is never a serious threat, his new-age, get-in-touch-with-your-feelings approach turns out to be exactly what Lia needs to move forward in life.
There’s not a whole lot of suspense on the business side of things either, as the big twist there is obvious the second it’s set up. But again, it’s the execution that makes it work. It’s largely played for laughs, it’s not lingered on, and so long as Lia’s happy, we’re happy.
One area that is a little bumpy is the one relationship we do want to see work. The film is front-loaded with a lot of information and events – so much so that any real development of the central relationship is bumped well into the second act. There’s also a big reveal that works well dramatically when it finally arrives, but holding it back so long leaves the love interest a bit more of a mystery (and seeming to be more of a jerk) than he should be.
That aside, Lia is the film’s real strength and keeping the full focus on her is in no way a bad move. Hu gives her an engaging energy even at her low moments; she’s a character you want to see succeed both in business and in love.
Add in a strong supporting cast, plenty of sunny scenery (including more trams passing down Sydney streets than the last half dozen movies set in Melbourne) and a snappy sub-90 minutes run time, and you’ve got a good time that doesn’t stick around for a long time. Much like Apollo Wang, come to think of it.
Five Blind Dates is now available on Prime Video.