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My Best Friend's Wedding (2016)
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by Jay Seaver

"Recreate the broad strokes but not the details."
2 stars

I get why Chinese filmmakers have been remaking English-language romantic comedies a lot over the last few years; these are fun, crowd-pleasing stories that work better if there's some familiarity to the fantasy. Still, it's kind of weird to remake "My Best Friend's Wedding" with Chinese stars speaking Mandarin and then set it in London, right? It's the sort of thing that maybe makes one wonder if this hasn't been thought all the way through.

It makes a couple stops before London, starting in Beijing where Gu Jia (Shu Qi) is the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine, about to head out to cover fashion week in Milan. Her assistant Ma Li (Ye Qing) has a packed schedule, but that all goes out the window when Jia's best friend since the age of three, Lin Ran (William Feng Shaofeng) calls and announces he's getting married the next weekend. Realizing she doesn't want anybody else to marry him, she heads for London where the situation is as bad as she thought; Meng Yixuan (Victoria Song Qian) is a millennial twit, but maybe Jia can stop this disaster with the help of Nick (Rhydian Vaughan), a good-looking Eurasian guy she met on the plane.

I doubt if I've seen the original American version since it's 1997 theatrical release, so it's not exactly close to my heart, but a big part of why it worked was that the secondary characters - the bride-to-be played by Cameron Diaz along with Rupert Everett more or less inventing the modern Gay Best Friend - were a bit more three-dimensional than you might expect, and their counterparts here don't stack up: Victoria Song's "Xuan Xuan" is not evil or awful or anything, and she's pretty, but when Jia has the chance to feed the allergic younger woman a cupcake with peanut butter in it, the audience's concern is entirely about how ruthless Jia is willing to be. Rhydia Vaughan's Nick, on the other hand, finds himself inserted and pulled out of the story entirely based upon momentary convenience - he's apparently well-off enough to be next to Jia in first class but tending bar when she has to stumble upon him later, and the filmmakers completely skip over Jia somehow convincing him to pose as her boyfriend in an effort to make Lin Ran jealous after he's been portrayed as wanting to give Jia a wide berth because she's a walking disaster.

That puts the movie firmly in the hands of Shu Qi and Feng Shaofeng, and many less charismatic pairings have made for good romantic comedies. The most important job that the pair have is to capture the friendship between their characters, and that's never in doubt; they light up in each other's presence and have an easy familiarity with each other, and there's a nice difference in how that comes across in the present and in flashbacks to when they were always together. Feng gives Lin Ran a boyish charm that doesn't seem immature, and does especially well when freaking out over Nick.

When it comes right down to it, of course, it's Shu Qi's movie, and in some ways that's both the film's greatest strength and weakness. Point her in any given direction and she'll commit to it utterly and find something delightful in it, and when we're seeing the confident "Tu Tu" Gu Jia joyfully conspiring with Nick to drive Lin Ran mad or finally letting him know that this may be more than she can take, it's easy to find her temptation to be a terrible friend compelling. She also delivers one of the most devastating, practiced eye rolls at someone suggesting that being a strong, assertive woman might make her less attractive that you'll ever see. It makes the moments when she's supposed to collapse into a sobbing mass of self-pity feel hammy and overdone, and the scenes where writer Wang Haolu and/or director Alexi Tan try to back off Jia's more selfish behavior are inert death.

And maybe that's the core of why this movie is so often a mess: Someone was afraid to make a romantic comedy where Shu Qi played even a potential villain, so the early dialogue has a lot of gushing about how beautiful and accomplished Gu Jia is that has the same tone as a lot of the comments about and close-ups on beautiful but impractical footwear. While the script offers some funny bits, it also has some head-scratchers, like Xuan Xuan seeing Jia try on her veil, covering for her with her own parents, and then never seeming to think that Jia might not have her best interests at heart again. There's also a moment late in the film where we see that Ma Li has been covering for her absent boss in Milan to the point of impersonation, and it's not unreasonable to ask why we haven't been watching that screwball comedy rather than what Jia's been up to.

Remaking "My Best Friend's Wedding" for a contemporary and/or Chinese audience isn't a bad idea, and this version even has the cast you'd want for such an endeavor. It's just all too often timid when it needs to be aggressive and let the audience vicariously enjoy Jia's selfishness, trying to hit the original's high points without also recreating the glue that held them together.

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originally posted: 08/18/16 02:01:51
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  12-Aug-2016 (PG)

  12-Aug-2016 (U)


Directed by
  Alexi Tan

Written by
  Haolu Wang

  Qi Shu
  Shaofeng Feng
  Victoria Song
  Rhydian Vaughan
  Qing Ye

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