Monday, February 07, 2011

What Women Want (Chinese-style) and its weird previews

In my continuing attempt to try and analyze the success of China Lion's Chinese movie imports based on hideously small sample sizes, I'm putting What Women Want in the loss column for them: The matinee show I attended was very sparsely attended, and had a number of walk-outs. A bit surprising, as I figured Andy Lau and Gong Li were fairly popular, but that may speak to the difference of "what Americans who follow Chinese film know" and "what Chinese people actually like". Of course, the auditorium wasn't exactly stuffed with people from Chinatown, so that's perhaps a moot point.

Or maybe, even if this is being mostly marketed to a Chinese-American audience, that phrase still includes "American audience" - you know, people who saw it with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, and even if they like Andy Lau and Gong Li more, they've still already seen it.

I kind of like that stuff like this What Women Want exists in theory, though, because it takes a little bit of a stigma off Americans in terms of being culturally ignorant. Well, maybe it more spreads it around: While it used to be more or less accepted as a given that Americans were peculiar in not reading subtitles (or even dealing with English-language movies from outside our cultural comfort zone - why else does the Chris Rock Death at a Funeral exist), that's clearly not the case: What Women Want isn't the first American movie to be remade for a Chinese audience - I've heard that the Benny Chan version of Cellular is better than the original - and there are other localizations out there: The Indian Oldboy, the British Law & Order, about a dozen versions of Ugly Betty just among Spanish-speaking countries. For stories where the exact location isn't critical, it seems people the world over prefer seeing familiar scenery.

It did have some odd trailers attached, though - I half suspect that when a multiplex theater gets something like this in, they have no idea what to stick on the front, and put every boutique preview they've got laying around the booth on. It leads to a very odd mix:

* Made in Dangenham - this one also ran in front of If You Are the One 2, and even back then, it had already come and gone from the local boutique theaters. I'm sorry I missed it - I like Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, et al - but I don't think it's coming back.

* The Immigration Tango - A cute, sitcommy-looking indie in which a Russian girl and her Latino boyfriend do the fake-marriage thing with an American couple in order to stay in the country. Hilarity ensues. Here's hoping it works as a calling card for those involved, because this sort of "middlebrow" comedy has a tough time competing with similar things that have Hollywood production values. And are the people seeing this the same people looking forward to...

* I Want Your Money - What looks like a by-and-for-Tea-Partiers flick that expresses dissatisfaction with the Obama administration in documentary form. Not that I've got any problem with that - I've certainly sat through polemics from the other side of the aisle - but a couple of things about this preview struck me weird. First, it calls itself "controversial", and I don't know that that's exactly an adjective you can bestow upon yourself. Honestly, this thing's probably too below-the-radar to be called that until after its release. Second, if you're going to build a movie on attacking President Obama for government spending, I'm not sure President Reagan is the counterpoint you want. Sure, he talks a good game in the clips, but huge budget deficits and a skyrocketing national debt is an undeniable part of his legacy.

* The Grace Card, I suspect, will also appeal to the same audience; it's a drama about faith and redemption with an overtly religious angle. There's an audience for it, and people with faith are probably underrepresented on screen, but it certainly looks kind of simplistic. Also, the only name used to sell the movie is Louis Gossett Junior, but he looks like a "special appearance" supporting actor, both from minimal screen time and his position in the credit block at the end.

Speaking of previews, I'm kind of surprised China Lion isn't attaching one for Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, which can't be more than a few weeks away. After a couple of mediocre romantic comedies, it's about time for a movie where people hit each other.

Wo Zhi Nv Ren Xin (What Women Want)

* * (out of four)
Seen 27 January 2010 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run)

It's bad enough that What Women Want is a romantic comedy that has deficiencies were both halves of the term are concerned, relying on its stars' charm to get the audience to ignore writing that is sloppy and occasionally desperate. Bad romantic comedies happen everywhere, all the time. What's almost worse is that there are moments when it briefly teases the audience with what might be an interesting idea, suggesting that there might have been some merit in remaking and localizing this particular story for contemporary China.

Sun Zigang (Andy Lau) is an advertising man at the top of his game, a seeming shoo-in for the new Executive Creative Director position at his agency. However, they opt to recruit outside talent, Li Yilong (Gong Li), whom Zigang naturally hits on before discovering that she's his new boss. A bizarre string of events results in Zigang electrocuting himself, and when he wakes up in the hospital, he can hear the thoughts of the women around him. At first this seems like a curse, but it soon proves useful - though he could probably pick a young girl like Yanni (Li Yuan) up without any trouble, he's also able to steal Yilong's ideas and impress their boss (Chengru Li).

Not having seen the original American film, I'm not sure which details come from that and which director Chen Daming came up with when adapting the screenplay. While much of the movie feels like random subplots strewn randomly about, there's the occasional sense that Chen had a little more than slapstick on his mind. There are scenes where Zigang and CEO Dong sit in the latter's office, smoking cigars and defining a very masculine space that excludes Yilong, and tensions both at having a woman for a boss and at what that represents (women being more independent, with economic power of their own), but Chen ultimately skates around it.

Full review at EFC.

One last comment: It's okay to have a lightning strike at the start of a movie to create a tricky situation. Having one at the end to fix everything up is lazy.

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