How much you’d enjoy the new Chinese remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson film, What Women Want, largely depends on how much you’d enjoy seeing a topless Andy Lau prance around in drag. Does the idea of that turn you off? Then this glossy romantic comedy starring Andy Lau and Gong Li would probably fall short of your expectations. If you’re looking for a passable date movie, however, this low-calorie fluff flick has just enough humour and sex appeal to fill an hour and a half or so.
Andy Lau here takes on Mel Gibson’s original role of a a seductive, womanizing ad executive (renamed Sun Zigang for this adaptation). Through a series of convoluted events, Sun gains the ability to hear women’s thoughts, and uses them to both seduce women as well as steal ideas from his new female boss Li Yilong (Gong Li). Complications ensue when Sun and Li end up falling for each other. In more capable hands, perhaps, What Women Want might have risen above its cliched romcom premise to be a more interesting study of gender differences as well as the changing role of women in modern-day China. As it stands, the film plays out like a gorgeously shot tourism ad for the People’s Republic. The original setting of Chicago inhabited by Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt is here replaced by uptown Beijing, and director Chen Daming kills two birds with one stone, raking in the product placement cash by lavishing loving attention on the sleek, modern buildings and sophisticated shopping districts of the city.
Andy Lau and Gong Li, too, are decked out in the finest urbanite chic, but the combined eye-candy of Gong Li’s cleavage and Andy Lau’s toned abs isn’t enough to distract from the paper-thin characters. Stuck in a caricature of the uptown ladies’ man, Lau never manages to rise above his one-dimensional chauvinism, though he makes the most out of his scenes as a smooth operator. Gong Li, on the other hand, does her best to flesh out a painfully underwritten role, but only succeeds at fleshing out her low-cut dresses. Nevertheless, the two veteran thespians bring with them years of experience at injecting simple scenes with sizzling subtext, and the movie only really works when they share a room together. From the early flirtatious exchanges to the emotional subtleties of the quieter scenes, the two share a chemistry that lifts the film out of its painfully underwritten state. Still, the bright spots are rare in a script that is as patchy as it is unimaginative, and it’s a damned shame to think of what these two talents could have done with actual writing.
(Samuel C Wee)