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What Women Want (2011)
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by Jay Seaver

"Apparently, it's not just Americans who don't like reading subtitles."
2 stars

It's bad enough that "What Women Want" is a romantic comedy that has deficiencies were both halves of the term are concerned, relying on its stars' charm to get the audience to ignore writing that is sloppy and occasionally desperate. Bad romantic comedies happen everywhere, all the time. What's almost worse is that there are moments when it briefly teases the audience with what might be an interesting idea, suggesting that there might have been some merit in remaking and localizing this particular story for contemporary China.

Sun Zigang (Andy Lau) is an advertising man at the top of his game, a seeming shoo-in for the new Executive Creative Director position at his agency. However, they opt to recruit outside talent, Li Yilong (Gong Li), whom Zigang naturally hits on before discovering that she's his new boss. A bizarre string of events results in Zigang electrocuting himself, and when he wakes up in the hospital, he can hear the thoughts of the women around him. At first this seems like a curse, but it soon proves useful - though he could probably pick a young girl like Yanni (Li Yuan) up without any trouble, he's also able to steal Yilong's ideas and impress their boss (Chengru Li).

Not having seen the original American film, I'm not sure which details come from that and which director Chen Daming came up with when adapting the screenplay. While much of the movie feels like random subplots strewn randomly about, there's the occasional sense that Chen had a little more than slapstick on his mind. There are scenes where Zigang and CEO Dong sit in the latter's office, smoking cigars and defining a very masculine space that excludes Yilong, and tensions both at having a woman for a boss and at what that represents (women being more independent, with economic power of their own), but Chen ultimately skates around it.

The whole film is a mess, really. The central gimmick is not nearly as comedy-rich as one might think, and it's notably absent when Zigang and Yilong start falling for each other. In some cases, the way its used is just bizarre. Take a scene where his telepathy clues Zigang in that one of the less-glamorous girls in the office is actually a rather good writer despite being insecure about her appearance. There's a laugh or two in Zigang trying to compliment her "natural look", but not a single scene of him putting her talent to use later. The wrap-up also feels several different kinds of wrong, with some loose plot ends resolved in arbitrary or nonsensical ways while others are left to dangle, good enough to pad out the middle of the movie but apparently not worthy of a mention in passing at the end.

In a better movie, stars Andy Lau and Gong Li might have shone a lot more. Lau has "charming jerk" figured out from the start, and while some of the things the script sticks him with can be ridiculous even beyond the goofy premise, he sells them well - in fact, he's good enough with double takes and funny faces that I suspect several scenes would have been better without dialog at all. Gong Li is not given quite the same sort of broad comedy to do, but she sells the more serious aspects well, and does get us to believe in Yilong falling for Zigang without looking like a fool for it. One thing that the script gets right (and that she runs with) is that Yilong doesn't need a man in her life for it to be complete.

"What Women Want" gets pretty far on Andy Lau, Gong Li, and a supporting cast good enough for the audience to wish they had more to do. Unfortunately, there just aren't a whole lot of good jokes, either slapstick or satirical, or a compelling reason that the guy is good enough for the girl, and romantic comedies kind of need those.

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originally posted: 02/08/11 14:12:04
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  N/A (NR)


  N/A (PG)

Directed by
  Daming Chen

Written by
  Daming Chen

  Andy Lau
  Gong Li
  Li Yuan
  Russell Wong
  Osric Chau

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