What Women Want
Starring: Andy Lau Tak-wah, Gong Li, Russell Wong, Yuan Li
Director: Chen Daming
Category: IIA (Cantonese)
At the beginning of this mainland adaptation of Nancy Meyers' 2000 hit romantic comedy, the film's leading character - the chauvinistic ad man Sun Zigang (Andy Lau, right) - is seen directing a photo shoot for an advertisement for a new brand of car. Puffing on his cigar, he demands that the glamorous young female models act more sexy - or sleazy, as his gestures suggest - and that the male model strike an arm-lifting pose. Wouldn't it be too vulgar, Sun's assistant says meekly - to which he replies that vulgarity is a prerequisite: he's targeting vulgar coal mine owners, after all.
It's a line that might heighten expectations about how Chen Daming's film could go beyond a mere cover version of the original - a story about a man suddenly bestowed with the ability to hear women's innermost thoughts - to offer scathing commentary about social conditions and gender relations on the mainland today. It's not to be, however - the only thing uniquely Chinese here is its unbridled celebration of the country's wealth and the lives of its yuppies. Beyond that, What Women Want simply relocates the original's narrative to Beijing, adopting nearly everything from the Hollywood vehicle - down to its notorious gimmick of providing a plug to a real company with an advert within the film (Nike being replaced here by the Italian sportswear company Lotto).
The film revolves around the rivalry between Sun and Li Yilong (Gong Li), the newly appointed executive creative director brought in by the company to address the needs of a market driven increasingly by female consumers.
While it might be excessively demanding to expect gritty authenticity from such middlebrow entertainment, Chen's version is undermined by the lack of a spark between the film's two leads.
Devoid of a rough edge and drowning in preening narcissism, Lau fails to play up his character's misogyny, while Li's access to an ever-changing wardrobe only highlights a magisterial aloofness ill at ease in a romantic comedy.
The film relies on easy laughs and is a pale copy of the original, minus the minimal danger and edge Meyers put into her already very mainstream film.
What Women Want opens today