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Sophie's Revenge
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by Jay Seaver

"Charming chick-flick from China."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Take heart, people of the world; the west and the east aren't necessarily so different after all. Sure, we may not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but if both cultures churn out romantic comedies where the heroine is able to attract the guy of her dreams despite being dishonest, manipulative, clingy, and more than a bit nuts, surely there's room for understanding on bigger issues!

Take Sophie (Zhang Ziyi). A rising star as a comic book artist, she until recently was engaged to the hunky surgeon who removed her appendix, Jeff (So Ji-sub). Unfortunately, in a repeat of their early romance, Jeff is now with a more recent patient, movie star Joanna (Fan Bingbing). Sophie is devastated, especially since her wedding is only a few short months away. But a plan (and a potential story for her new graphic novel) comes to her - she will win Jeff back from Joanna, then leave him at the alter, breaking his heart as he broke hers. As an accomplice, she recruits not just her friends Lily (Yao Chen) and Lucy (Ruby Lin), but Gordon (Peter Ho), who has the same problem shaking Charlotte that Sophie has with Jeff.

Oh, Sophie, Sophie, Sophie, you lovable utter lunatic! If you were a man, there's no doubt that we would consider what you are doing stalking, and instead of us laughing at your endearing clumsiness, we'd be hoping you get hauled off to jail! But you have been wronged, you do tend to trip over your own feet, you're played by pretty Zhang Ziyi in a non-stop array of colorful outfits, and your apartment (which magically goes from being messy in a way that is either tomboyish or indicative of great depression to perfectly art-directed in a scene cut) has an elegant and unused wedding dress right in the middle! What use is logic and the general definition of acceptable human behavior against that?

In fairness, Sophie is called on this behavior early and often; upon hearing of her plan, Gordon calls her pathetic and we can plainly see that her obsession with Jeff and Joanna is hurting her burgeoning romance with Gordon. It's just that writer/director Jin Yimeng doesn't have another way to move the story along; for a couple of reasons, this deception must go on until the climax, well after it's clear that Sophie should be past it. It's almost like Jin was just a draft or two away from getting things to really work, because the plot does turn out to be more clever and well-thought-out than it sounds. The movie is also well-stocked on passable jokes, as well, although the physical comedy is only fitfully funny.

Whether that's because Jin doesn't quite have the knack for getting it on-screen or because any skills Zhang might have picked up in all those wuxia epics she's done don't actually translate to slapstick isn't quite clear. Zhang Ziyi is able to charm her way through the picture, though, despite the fact that taking any scene just a bit too far makes Sophie seem either clueless or detestable, and we do rather wind up liking her. It's not quite the best comic performance in the movie, though, because Fan Bingbing is allowed to be clueless and/or nasty as the situation permits, and she's great at bouncing between Joanna being merely high-maintenance and downright mean, able to be quite funny at either and also, on occasion, allowing her to come across as a human being rather than just a monster. So Ji-sub actually does well on that count as Jeff, too - as much as he fits a villain slot, he can't be too unpleasant or we'd think less of Sophie for spending a couple years with him. So does well in making Jeff a guy who knows he's done poorly by Sophie even if he hasn't done wrong. Peter Ho, of course, has to be the even better guy, but he doesn't make perfect boring.

In addition to having a very nice cast, Sophie's Revenge is also fun to look at and watch. The picture is filled with bright primary colors and the outfits they're used on are suitably fabulous. The characters being comic artists, actresses, and photographers gives Jin the chance to use some fanciful imagery without taking the audience out of the movie, and she's able to use a number of montages without seeming like she's abusing the device (note to future chick-flick directors - a montage of dealing with a broken bone is maybe not the sort of great fantasy material as a shopping trip, but it's often more amusing).

Another side-note: Sophie's Revenge is remarkably export-ready for a female-targeted Chinese comedy, and not just to the extent that the South Korean company that co-financed it made sure a Korean heartthrob was cast in a prominent supporting role. The six characters with the most screen time have Western names that aren't just used in the subtitles, and there is a lot of English on-screen; it is very rare to see a character walk into a shop or pick up a book that is only identified with Chinese characters.

That may be a smart move; Zhang Ziyi is the rare Chinese actress who can truly be thought of as an international star. "Sophie's Revenge" isn't better than romantic comedies found elsewhere in the world by leaps and bounds, but it's a fairly entertaining example of the genre no matter where the audience lives.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20553&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/28/10 14:34:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival For more in the 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yimeng Jin

Written by
  Yimeng Jin

Cast
  Ziyi Zhang
  Bingbing Fan
  Ruby Lin
  Ai Wan
  Peter Ho
  Ji-seob So



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