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The Fantastic Water Babes
Fantastic Water Babes

Gillian Chung celebrates in The Fantastic Water Babes.
Chinese: 出水芙蓉
Year: 2010
Director: Jeff Lau Chun-Wai
Producer: Peggy Lee Gam-Man, Jeff Lau Chun-Wai
Writer: Jeff Lau Chun-Wai
Cast: Gillian Chung Yun-Tung, Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Eva Huang Shengyi, Stephen Fung Tak-Lun, Tian Liang, Simon Lui Yu-Yeung, Hyper BB, Chu Fun, Natalie Tong Sze-Wing, Jacqueline Law Wai-Geun, Tang Chi-Fung, Jeff Lau Chun-Wai
  The Skinny: Very Jeff Lau, which means it's creative, uneven, funny and sometimes tiresome. Not for those expecting standard cinema giggles, but Fantastic Water Babes is better than its tortured production history would imply. It's not that much better, but we'll take what we can get.
by Kozo:

Two years was a long time to wait for The Fantastic Water Babes. It's not the film's fault; Water Babes was cursed by its association with the 2008 Edison Chen sex photo scandal, which made the film's star and photo scandal participant Gillian Chung persona non grata in China. The fallout: Water Babes was barred from the mainland, and rather than give up and opt for a Hong Kong-only release (like Media Asia did with the Edison Chen starrer Sniper), EEG decided to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Hell, director Jeff Lau even managed to make two more films while waiting for Water Babes to finally leave the vault. Everyone got older, too.

Well, the wait is finally over. Was it worth it? Um…probably not, because you'd have to be making Avatar or Bodyguards and Assassins to justify such a publicized delay. This is only Fantastic Water Babes, a movie about a bunch of girls who enter a swimming competition to gain vengeance for one of them being dumped. That's a Grade-Z unoriginal premise, but this is Jeff Lau at the helm, so you know it's not going to be a simple zero-to-hero tale involving girls in swimsuits. Nope, it'll involve cartoon violence, a kidnapping, a terminal disease, Chinese sea deities and someone with supposed super powers. It also has Stephen Fung in drag. That's right, one of the Gen-X Cops dons a wig, spray-on tan and fake boobs just for giggles. On second thought, maybe it was worth waiting two years for this movie.

Gillian Chung stars as Gil, a typical Hong Kong girl whose obsession with herself knows no reasonable bounds. After seeing her boyfriend canoodling with a rival via hidden camera, Gil loses it and tries to drown herself in the sea surrounding her island home of Cheung Chau. However, after falling in, she supposedly spies Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Water, who according to legend will grant those who see her with super powers. Her friends (Eva Huang and DJs Hyper BB and Chu Tun) don't want Gil attempting suicide again, so they pretend that Gil really does have powers, and they enlist the entire community of Cheung Chau to aid in the deception. Ergo, if Gil asks someone to start eating trash the person does so, just so they can support her fantasy and prevent her from going all mental. Wow! Cheung Chau people are awesome! Good thing Gil doesn't ask someone to give her their life savings.

However, Gil goes too far when she takes her super powers to Hong Kong Island and attempts to use them on her rival, who's competing with pals (including bikini babe Chrissie Chau in a ballyhooed background role) in the Water Babes Swimming Contest. Gil embarrasses herself by falling into the pool, but she's rescued by super-charming celebrity swimmer Kwok Chi-Yuen (Alex Fong Lik-Sun), who says he'll help her enter the contest and win. Gil is moved but it's all a fat lie – Chi-Yuen's charity is just a publicity ploy and he doesn't give a rat's ass about Gil or her problems. In retaliation, Gil kidnaps Chi-Yuen and spirits him to Cheung Chau, where she and the locals conspire to keep him until he decides to help Gil win the swimming contest. Cue ninety minutes of gestating attraction and disconnected wackiness. Can Gil and her pals get it together to win the Water Babes contest? And will she and Chi-Yuen find true love? Is this premise anything but predictable?

No it isn't, but Jeff Lau manages enough surprise to make the ride an amusing if not consistently entertaining one. Some of his disconnected gags are creative and funny, and his portrait of picturesque Cheung Chau and its borderline insane inhabitants is fun and enjoyable. Gillian Chung does a fine job in the lead, at times making the audience forget her tarnished image, and she's complimented well by Alex Fong, who's takes on the tougher character arc. The actual character development never surpasses cliché, but Fong and his Andy Lau-like mannerisms deliver solid lightweight star presence. Stephen Fung plays the loony Cheung Chau neighbor who serves no real purpose, but Fung manages to steal the film anyway. Olympic diver Tian Liang shows up in an amusing cameo, and Eva Huang earns sympathy as Gil's disease-afflicted best pal. Nobody here performs to an award-worthy level, but if you expected them to then that's your problem.

Fantastic Water Babes never truly coheres, delivering a weak storyline, routine character development and a bizarre climax, which involves real super powers and an out-of-nowhere environmental message that seems cribbed from a Studio Ghibli animation. Sealing the deal are unconvincing special effects and some unearned applause from the in-film crowd, who should really be wondering what the hell just happened instead of cheering wildly at the strangeness they just witnessed. As a sports movie, Fantastic Water Babes is a total bust, but as a Jeff Lau film – i.e., a nonsense comedy mixing creative gags and unexpected emotion – it does the job, and proves more successful than the ill-handled Kung Fu Cyborg. Lau does better with the romance this time too; Lau always enjoys mixing ardent emotions with broad slapstick, and here he ties it to his narrative well, with some scenes between Fong and Chung nearly soaring. Fantastic Water Babes isn't as good as its title, and is hard to recommend to anyone expecting a consistent or accessible time at the movies. It has its moments, though, and in a Jeff Lau film, that's usually enough. (Kozo 2010)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Vicol Entertainment Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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