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Sophie's Revenge
Zhang Ziyi in Sophie's Revenge

Zhang Ziyi (center) goes romcom in Sophie's Revenge.
Chinese: 非常完美  
Year: 2009  
Director: Eva Jin Yimeng  
  Producer: Yang Du, Ming Beaver Kwei, Ling Lucas, Zhang Ziyi
Writer: Eva Jin Yimeng  
  Cast: Zhang Ziyi, Fan Bing-Bing, So Ji-Sub, Peter Ho Yun-Tung, Ruby Lin, Yao Chen, Ai Wan, Cheng Qian, Ji Wan, Ian Powers
  The Skinny:

Derivative, predictable and also fun, Sophie's Revenge is the China approximation of your super-commercial Hollywood romantic comedy. Discerning filmgoers needn't apply, but for a China production, this is something of an accomplishment. Featuring Zhang Ziyi as you've never seen her before.

   
Review
by Kozo:
It's derivative and exceptionally lightweight, but Sophie's Revenge manages a few feats. Number one, it's a China film production with a Hollywood-quality style and sheen that can probably play beyond just Asian territories. Number two, it makes Zhang Ziyi into a convincing comedienne, giving her the space and the material to cut loose in that crazy romcom heroine way. And three, it's actually pretty fun. As a commercial film, Sophie's Revenge is agreeable and enjoyable, if not original. And hey, it also features Peter Ho in a major motion picture role. The APB on his MIA movie career can now be cancelled.

Directed by Chinese-American filmmaker Eva Jin, Sophie's Revenge stars Zhang as Sophie, whose career as a successful comic artist takes second place to her loopy romantic life. Sophie has just split with her boyfriend Jeff (K-drama star So Ji-Sub), but her mother is expecting a wedding and Sophie hasn't the heart to tell her otherwise. Undaunted, Sophie resolves to win Jeff back from his new love, popular actress Joanna (Fan Bing-Bing), and chooses to chronicle her quest in her new book, The Handbook of Love. Her attempts at re-snagging Jeff are announced with intertitles and voiceover describing Sophie's elaborate and usually unsuccessful - plans. Another wrinkle occurs with the arrival of nice-guy photographer Gordon (Peter Ho), who has a past with Joanna and soon becomes Sophie's confidante. Together, the two team up to regain their ex-partners, with burgeoning romance a predictable by-product between the two jilted lovers.

Sophie's Revenge doesn't attempt to deconstruct the romantic comedy, but the audience should have seen enough of this genre to do that job themselves. The film offers a number of twists and gags that could appear smart or irreverent to uninitiated audiences, but have been used before in other romcoms or even straight TV dramas. Sophie's Revenge tries so hard at being witty and creative that it pretty much guarantees an expectation-busting gag or twist when you most expect it. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the shot of Zhang Ziyi walking down some stairs at a party in slow motion. The music swells, her dress is beautiful, she looks beautiful - of course she'll take a pratfall down the stairs in front of her shocked guests. Sophie's overdone quirkiness is also old hat, as is the candy-colored art direction, showy editing and nifty animated sequences. Hollywood invented this wheel years ago, and Sophie's Revenge does little to improve upon it.

However, all of the above isn't really a fault. Romantic comedy is pretty much a tired genre, with innovation a bonus if you can get it. Excused of actual inspiration, Sophie's Revenge proves enjoyable, as it provides enough for an amusing and light time at he movies. The surprise isn't in the actual story, but more in the novelty of the production. Shot gorgeously in a gloriously manufactured way, Sophie's Revenge presents a China you've never seen on cinema. The film's settings are upscale and meticulously dressed up, fashions are top notch, cars are luxury and we see nothing of the vast range of people, places and issues that make up modern China. Sophie's Revenge is like those New York romances that take place entirely on the Upper West Side. It's a part of New York that everyone wants to live in and Sophie's Revenge likewise sticks to the most attractive areas of Shanghai. We could knock the film for its fakery, but since we readily accept this sort of thing in Hollywood romcoms, we should accept it here too.

Of more interest is the casting. In Sophie, Zhang Ziyi is given a chance to shed her icy image and she does so splendidly. Zhang is ditzy and self-effacing, chewing up scenery as your standard romcom heroine who's quirky, insufferable and yet still worth loving. The character is far from realistic, but this movie is a fantasy anyway. Even better is Fan Bing-Bing. She essentially gets the Zhang Ziyi role - the temperamental beauty queen whose every glance transmits buckets of disdain. It's a fun comic turn, and between she and Zhang, the men get eaten alive. So Ji-Sub is handsome but suffers from being dubbed, while Peter Ho is simply Peter Ho - a likable enough guy who doesn't really convince when playing brooding or tortured men. The leading four are well complemented by Yao Chen and Ruby Lin, who play Sophie's stereotypical best buds. Oddly, Lin looks a little worse for the wear, her tanned skin making her look older than her early-thirties age. Still, looking older fits the character because she's essentially Sophie's Revenge's version of Sex and the City's Samantha. Presumably, Sophie is Carrie Bradshaw.

Sophie's Revenge ends in the expected fashion, with someone getting together with someone else and the happy couple strolling down a path littered with red-brown fall leaves. The scene is obligatory and never developed, and looks like it takes place in autumn in New York - or maybe a set dressed up to look like a scene from When Harry Met Sally. Still, for a Hollywood-aping commercial Chinese film (co-produced with Korea's CJ Entertainment), Sophie's Revenge is a successful and enjoyable trifle. Also, given the star wattage, the universal romcom devices and the attractiveness of the production, Sophie's Revenge seems tailor-made for international distribution. Zhang Ziyi is arguably the biggest Chinese actress in the world (apologies to Gong Li), and her image-busting turn here could add even more cachet to her international profile. Zhang also happens to be a producer on Sophie's Revenge, so maybe that was her plan all along. (Kozo 2009)

   
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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