I don’t normally watch Chinese romantic comedies but I saw one recently called What Women Want. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because this movie is directly based on the Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt 2000 movie of the same name. This Chinese remake stars Andy Lau and Gong Li, two Chinese cinematic heavyweights, and while Gong Li isn’t known for her comedic performances (and didn’t really display any in this movie), the two of them manage a decent job. Unfortunately, the movie itself also just is decent, because remake was done too literally. The plot and characters are directly based on the original, which is kind of disappointing, but even more so is that there is little substantial Chinese elements that really stick out. There’s also one particular side storyline which just cuts off and doesn’t get resolved – the quiet office girl who nobody pays attention to and mistreats. I get that remakes are often similar, but given that this was taking place in a completely different continent and culture from the original, you’d think there would be room for plot or setting changes that are more relevant to China.
The movie is really slick as the characters are all attractive and fashionable, the acting is good, and the locales are so modern and high-class, you could easily think that China, or Beijing to be specific, was firmly first-world. It might be some day, but definitely not now. This isn’t necessarily a good thing because just as with the plot, the locations lack a Chinese feel or vibe. And while not showing any of the usual famous Beijing landmarks like the Great Wall or the Bird’s Nest stadium may have avoided the usual cliched portrayals of China’s capital, it also makes the setting seem generic as you can hardly tell it’s Beijing. The movie just seems to take place in some random modern city where all the people are Chinese and speak Mandarin. There are scenes in bars where Chinese bands play crappy rock songs, in one case, a song whose chorus is meow,meow, meow, and the movie soundtrack is full of songs sung in English.
In the end, the movie was enjoyable, but nothing special. And at the risk of reading too much in this movie, I find it a vivid example of a problem with modern China, where modernity and sophistication are dominated by Western products, brands and ideals. The sleek advertising agency that Lau and Li work in is just like that of a Western one, I’d imagine, and the malls, bars, homes and even the senior’s home are the same. I mean while Western ideas and conventions do dominate Greater China, no matter what the media or business consultants say, it’d be great if China’s increasing modernization and prosperity doesn’t just ape that of the West, which unfortunately weddings and upscale housing seem to do. I know that this isn’t fully the case, but What Women Wants makes it seem so.