Shu Qi has had an interesting 2015: in between a critical triumph (Hou Hsiao Hsien’s The Assassin) and a box office high (Wuershan’s Mojin: The Lost Legend) were two romances, both fairly unsuccessful. Richie Jen’s All You Need Is Love was more on the goofy side, while writer Luo Luo’s directorial debut – and adaptation of her own book – The Last Women Standing is a more dramatic affair. It follows Ruxi (Shu Qi), a driven businesswoman who’s great at her job but unlucky in love. Now well past thirty and still single, she’s among what Chinese society labels as “leftover women”. Her concerned parents (Pan Hong and Chin Shih-chieh) set her up with an upright but somewhat dull doctor (Xing Jiadong), but her heart has already chosen Ma Sai (Eddie Peng), a kind, handsome co-worker she just met. Her feelings for him are reciprocal and soon they’re in a dreamy relationship but the trouble is, he’s afraid of commitment.

By this synopsis you might think The Last Women Standing is a groan-worthy sequence of some of the most well-trodden romance clichés, and you’d be right. There’s a deadeningly mechanical feel to the proceedings: director Luo Luo seemingly tasked herself with playing it as safe and predictable as humanly possible. Sure, Shu Qi is such a compelling, beautiful actress that she does manage to keep this barren little love story afloat, and her chemistry with a charming if slightly bland Eddie Peng is fine, while Mark Lee Ping-Bin’s cinematography is velvety in a pleasingly unforced way. And the parents provide classy support: veteran Chin Shih-chieh has one beautiful speech to Shu that’s a masterclass in acting, while Pan Hong skillfully anchors a poignant but underdeveloped Alzheimer subplot. But at no point does the film try to challenge the fairly cruel social stigma of “leftover women”: there is, in the final third, a glimmer of hope that the film might shun a thudding happy ending in favor of something more subtle and uplifting, but contrivances have the last word.

Long Story Short: The Last Women Standing is a thudding succession of romantic clichés barely kept afloat by fine performances and beautiful cinematography. **

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