|China seems to be an ideal place to set a remake of the Hollywood romantic comedy What Women Want. Not only is its film industry more than happy to show off the country's new cosmopolitan image of fancy cars and chic architecture, the rising presence of women in the Chinese corporate world is also becoming an appealing subject for the legion of Chinese urban female moviegoers.
Cue writer-director Daming Chen and Andy Lau's Focus Films, who decided to tackle the remake and retool its American elements to fit the sensibilities of Chinese audiences. While the result is mildly entertaining and doesn't offend, it's no more than a passable star vehicle at best and the proof that remakes are harder to do right than they appear to be.
Transported from Chicago to Beijing, the story of What Women Want Version 2.0 remains essentially the same: arrogant, narcissistic ad executive Sun Zigong (Andy Lau) thinks that he's loved by women everywhere. However, his ego is seriously bruised when the company brings in a new female creative director to fit the changing advertising market. Even worse, that new director is Li Yilong (Gong Li), who Zigong tried to flirt with unsuccessfully before their official meeting.
Under Yilong's orders to become familiar with female products (a scene which includes Andy Lau dancing like he's...well, Andy Lau), Zigong slips in the bathtub and is electrocuted. However, instead of dying like a normal person, the electrocution enables him to hear what women think, and thus, what women want. With this new power, Zigong is determined to take down his new nemesis and rule the office.
What follows is a series of standard jokes about how Zigong tries out his newfound powers, and how that power helps him build a better attitude towards the women around him. Like the original, Chen adapts a light, pleasant approach that keeps the film at the level of glossy, superficial entertainment. However, there's a lack of directorial technique behind the polished images. The film is essentially a long series of conversations with little real action, with Chen simply adopting a point-and-shoot technique that often causes the 116-minute film to drag.
Chen's uninspired direction owes much his equally uninspired script (credited to Chen and also the original scriptwriters). While the writer-director does add in some mildly amusing observations about modern China (there's a particularly funny joke about the changing menu of a chic Japanese restaurant), he doesn't translate the story in a way that makes it feel unique. Instead, Chen simply goes one-by-one through a checklist of plot points from the original. While Chen does make one significant addition in the form of Zigong's father, he doesn't add enough to make the remake all that much different.
As Chen crams in most of the characters from the original into his remake (including the young adult daughter), he also forgot to develop them enough to make them likeable. However, this is a flaw that can also be partly blamed on the stars. Andy Lau exudes too much of his pop star persona to convince the audience that he's anyone other than Andy Lau. While heís the right caliber of star and puts in the required effort for the role, Lau still appears far too nice to carry Mel Gibson's mix of star charm and self-deprecating comic timing.
Required to speak all of his lines in Mandarin on set (though he is still dubbed in the final print), Lau appears uncomfortable trying to act on the same level as Gong Li, who owns the screen every time she appears. Unlike Lau, Gong carries her role effortlessly despite a lack of experience in romantic comedy and a script that fails to develop Yilong thoroughly as a convincing character.
Still, there's not much that can really be done to improve the problems of What Women Want because itís trying so hard to stay faithful to its unremarkable source material. At best, the original film is entertaining fluff that manages to surprise with an interesting and fresh concept. By remaking a film that has already been exposed to a large part of its own target audience, Chen is at a disadvantage from the beginning.
No one should be surprised that What Women Want is just as unremarkable as the original film, as itís merely an inferior Chinese copy that tries to do nothing new. Nevertheless, with plenty of China's rich and famous on display and an obvious intention to please audiences, What Women Want does serve its main purpose as an amusing commercial blockbuster, and it shouldnít offend anyone who expects just that. However, it also doesn't offer enough to satisfy those same people, either. (Kevin Ma, 2011)