“What Women Want” is a Chinese remake of the 2000 Hollywood romantic comedy of the same name, with megastars Andy Lau and Gong Li taking the roles played by Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt in the original. The film, one of the few to actually market itself as an Eastern remake, was fittingly written and directed by a Chinese American in Chen Daming, who previously helmed the comedy “One Foot off the Ground” and the recent Chinese animation “The Dreams of Jinsha”. While the film obviously belongs to its leading couple, it also boasts a photogenic supporting cast that includes former idol Benny Chen (“Just Call Me Nobody”), TV actress Yuan Li (“The Bronze Teeth”), Hu Jing (“Drink Drank Drunk”), Anya (“Naked Weapon”), and American actor Russell Wong (“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”).
Shifting the action from Chicago to Beijing, the film follows the plot of the original pretty closely, with Lau playing Sun Zigang, an arrogant, womanising male advertising executive who prides himself on having all of the females in his life wrapped around his little finger. His narcissistic world is turned upside down when his company decides to pass him over for promotion and to hire the beautiful Li Yilong (Gong Li) for the new creative director role which he has been chasing for years. Commiserating himself with a bottle of wine, he electrocutes himself in the bathtub, and on awaking in the hospital finds that he has somehow gained the power to hear the thoughts of women. Although at first understandably unnerved, Sun soon turns his newfound talent to his advantage, further increasing his prowess with the opposite sex and making things far easier at work. Unexpectedly though, when stealing ideas from Li, he slowly but surely finds himself falling for her, growing a conscience in the process.
“What Women Want” is actually a pretty smart choice for a Chinese remake, with the never ending complications between the sexes being about as international a theme as it’s possible to get. At the same time, given the cultural differences between the East and West, and the generally more reserved perception that most audiences are likely to have of Chinese women, the premise is one which offers the chance for further development and a slightly different vein of humour. This is also the case with the setting, and the film works better for taking place in Beijing, a city still very much a mix of the modern and traditional, rather than perhaps Shanghai. In these respects, Chen Daming generally succeeds, and the film is one of the more accomplished recent attempts to adapt Hollywood style for the Chinese market, combining Western comedy and Eastern nuances and values.
The film has a different feel to most other Chinese comedies, for the most part eschewing slapstick and wackiness in favour of a witty script. This works well, and the film has a pleasingly urbane feel, with some very amusing moments as Sun’s illusions about how women see him are cruelly shattered. Although there are a few silly touches here and there, Chen holds back from anything too low-brow, and the film is all the better for being somewhat mature. This having been said, the film also gets a fair bit of mileage in the early stages out of the less than edifying sight of Andy Lau in drag, all dolled up with makeup and stockings, and while disturbing, this does make for some effective belly laughs. Even more hilarious, if unintentionally so, is the film’s blatant product placement, with pretty much every scene having an Apple product facing the camera, and with Lau enjoying more than his fair share of fine Ballentine’s whiskey.
Interestingly, the central romance is somewhat subdued, and the film emerges as being more about Sun learning to be a better man and to stop treating women so badly. Indeed, although relationship with Li is thematically at the heart of the film, much of the running time is taken up with his dealings with other women, from his past, his daughter, and a somewhat needless subplot with his father, which is one of the few noticeable additions to the original. Whilst it does lurch into the expected final act melodrama, there is a winning sense of chemistry between the two stars, and the scenes between them are definitely the best moments in the film. Thankfully, this prevents the film from becoming too obviously message-oriented, and helps distract from the fact that at nearly two hours long it could have used a little trimming.
It’s fair to say that the film is first and foremost a star vehicle, and fans are unlikely to be disappointed with the dream power casting of Andy Lau and Gong Li. Lau dominates the film with his presence, appearing in pretty much every scene in a role perfectly tailored to his trademark charisma, even giving himself a few chances to sing and dance. However, the film really belongs to Gong Li, whose excellent performance makes her role far more substantial than the standard romantic comedy heroine it might otherwise have been, adding a real sense of emotional depth and vulnerability.
Benefitting considerably from its two leads, “What Women Want” is a perfectly entertaining remake, and though Chen Daming perhaps could have put a little more effort into actually doing something new with the concept, it’s still a charming and enjoyable time-passer. More comedy than romance, it should make for a very acceptable date movie, and manages to work in some amusing and telling observations about the battle between the sexes along the way.
Daming Chen (director) / Daming Chen (screenplay)
CAST: Osric Chau … Chen Er Dong
Daming Chen … Young Sun Meisheng
Li Gong … Li Yi-Long
Jing Hu … Zhao Hong
Andy Lau … Sun Zi Gang
Deshun Wang … Sun Meisheng
Russell Wong … Peter