What Women Want 我知女人心
Contemporary romantic comedy
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 116 mins
Directed by Chen Daming (陳大明)
By Derek Elley
Tue, 01 March 2011, 16:48 PM (HKT)
Andy Lau and Gong Li shine in an improved remake of the US rom-com. Beyond Asia, niche festivals.
Beijing, the present day. Serial lothario Sun Zigang (Andy Lau), creative director at an ad agency, arrives at work expecting to be promoted to executive creative director but finds CEO Dong (Li Chengru) has given the post to a woman, Li Yilong (Gong Li), a high-flyer at rival agency Mio. Dong reckons the company needs a female perspective now that women are such a consumer force. Sun privately vows to get his own back, and one night, while trying to get in touch with his "feminine side" after being set a creative challenge by Li, electrocutes himself in his bath after swallowing some contraceptive pills and wakes up to find he can hear women's thoughts. Sun uses this gift to his own advantage when taking on Li over an ad campaign for a foreign sportswear manufacturer. But gradually the two rivals become friends, and more.
Though they've sometimes made a lot more money, no US remakes of Asian movies have yet improved on the original. With What Women Want 我知女人心 (2011), an official remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt vehicle, the boot is on the other foot — and it's a much better fit. In his third feature, Mainland writer-director CHEN Daming 陳大明 (Manhole 井盖儿 (2002), One Foot Off the Ground 雞犬不寧 (2006)) sticks pretty closely to the plot of Nancy Meyer's over-rated rom-com but makes many tiny course corrections and tightenings — including a better transformation scene and less larking around in travesto — that smoothe out the original's bumps and provide a much more compelling emotional arc for the whole movie.
Where the original version was a glorified platform for Gibson's debatable comedic charms, this version is much more a partnership, with Andy LAU 劉德華 quietly soft-pedalling his character in tune with GONG Li 鞏俐, as his business rival whose thoughts he can read. Lau, 49, can play this kind of role blindfold, and is well re-voiced here into Mandarin; the major surprise is that Gong, 45, in her first rom-com, acquits herself in relaxed style and forges a mature chemistry with Lau that really does drive the movie. With a younger actress in the part, it would have been a different — and lesser — film.
Even five years ago, a super-glossy rom-com set in China's media/fashion world would have been unbelievable. But with the genre now established (and very much du jour) thanks to fine examples like Go! Lala Go! 杜拉拉升職記 (2010) and Love in Cosmo 搖擺ｄｅ婚約 (2010), it's not only believable but also raises the bar an extra notch. Rather than just being "a remake of a US movie", Chen's film makes the material its own, with a convincing setting in the high-flying end of Beijing society and social manners that don't seem transplanted. With super-slick widescreen photography by Max WANG 汪大勇 (Exit No 6 六號出口 (2006)), a smooth score by Christopher O'YOUNG and seamless editing by Nelson QUAN 關景元, it slides along like any top-notch Hong Kong rom-com of the past decade, and leaves a small but satisfying lump in the throat at the end.
Chen can't quite solve one of the original's biggest structural problems (how to bring together the excess of character strands), and a further trim of some 10 minutes would tighten the second half. But the role of the lead's father is better integrated thanks to some brief flashbacks and veteran WANG Deshun 王德順's charmingly light performance; other supporting roles like the lead's daughter are less intrusive than in the original; and inventions like the airhead twin assistants are genuinely amusing.
The Chinese title translates as the more romantic I Know Women's Hearts. The extensively re-written dialogue, which includes local puns and naturalistic exchanges, merits more than the mealy-mouthed "adaptation" given in the English credits. (The Chinese more accurately says "A film by Chen Daming" 陳大明导演作品.)
ContactSales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: China, 3 Feb 2011; Hong Kong, 17 Feb 2011.
Presented by Beijing Bona Film & Cultural Communication (CN), China Film Group (CN), Focus Films (HK), Emperor Motion Pictures (HK), in association with CJ Entertainment, Yinji Entertainment & Media, Bona Entertainment, Beijing Airmedia Film & Culture. Executive producers: Yu Dong, Han Sanping, Andy Lau, Albert Yeung. Producer: Chris Liu.
Script: Chen Daming. Original script: Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa (What Women Want, 2000). Original story: Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa, Diane Drake. Photography: Max Wang. Editing: Nelson Quan. Music: Christopher O'Young. Production design: Li Zhuoyi. Art direction: Luo Diyou. Costume design: Li Yikai. Image design (for Andy Lau): Bruce Yu, Stephanie Wong. Sound: An Wei, Li Shuo. Visual effects: Gene Shih (Xing Xing Digital).
Cast: Andy Lau (Sun Zigang), Gong Li (Li Yilong), Yuan Li (Yanni), Julien Chen (Xiao Fei/Tip), Li Chengru (Dong, the CEO), Russell Wong (Peter), Wang Deshun (Sun Meisheng, Zigang's father), Zhu Zhu (Xiao Wu), Hu Jing (Zhao Hong), Anya (Dong's wife), Shen Chang (Doctor Liu), Kelly Hu (model in Lotto commercial), Yang Jie (photographer), Tami Zhao, Yang Luxi (models), Chang Ce (male model), IC Girls (girl band), Chen Jiajia (girl at bar), Zhang Ying (Auntie Liu), Amy (girl waiting at office), Du Juan (Sun Fang — "Hippo"), Wen Mengyang (Li Keke/Coco), Sun Baobao, Sun Jiaojiao (Lei twins, Zigang's assistants), Tao Jia (Doudou, Zigang's daughter), Chen Daming (young Sun Meisheng, Zigang's father), Jiao Ni (Sun Meisheng's wife), Yu Yue (young Sun Zigang), Pan Shuangshuang (Tammi), Chang Fangyuan (Liu Yang, the office Plain Jane), Du Nü ("Christmas Tree"), Telly Liu (Fang Li), Andrew Edelson (groom), Zhang Yue, Niu Niu (Doudou's classmates), Osric Chau (Chen Erdong, Doudou's boyfriend), Dede Nickerson (client's representative), Wang Haizhen (nurse), Chris Liu (man with flowers), Ma Yao (Japanese restaurant maitre d'), Wang Jing, Dong Tong, Tang Qian, Wang Fei (Latin dancers), Ren Li (woman at ice lolly stand), Wang Mian, Liu Bihe (airline stewardesses), Simon Yu, Wang Taotao, Zhang Xiang, Peng Guanhao, Yang Lei, Gene Shih (male office staff), Wang Yuan, Yuan Qianyun, Jiang Chunqi, Li Manyun, Zheng Yuanyuan (female office staff).