Thursday, December 11, 2008

"All about Women" reviews (1,2)


It must have been crazy to brand this as Asia's answer to the wildly popular Sex and the City, because for all the star power in its female cast, whom besides Zhou Xun, I thought the rest had hung to the coattails of their more popular co-stars such as Stephen Chow and Jay Chou in order to give their cinematic career some needed boost. And what must Tsui Hark be thinking if he reckoned that he could get in touch with his inner feminine self to bring to an audience something about the modern women's psyche on relationships?

There's nothing fun nor sassy in the characters and the storyline here, and at best, it's a forgettable piece of drama that felt like a typical scatterbrain trying to figure everything, but getting down to achieving nothing. The film was schizophrenic on a lot of fronts, having bitten more than it can chew, and then couldn't decide if it preferred to spit or swallow (pardon the sexual connotations, which the movie is devoid of anyway). While some would have written off Tsui Hark as a has-been, I thought I still wanted to give him a chance even after the rather dismal Missing, and while one can applaud his bravery at attempting something fresh, you're likely to find yourself questioning just what has gotten into him, and whether he has totally lost the plot.

You can reminisce his glorious filmography past, but I think those days aren't going to come back anytime soon. There's absolutely nothing to like about this movie, and everything felt rather artificial with little heart. The last straw of course came when a scene toward the end was a blatant copy of The Bachelor, except that the roles were reversed. I felt that was a new low with Hark finding the need to parody others, highlighting a serious lack of ideas.

Zhou Xun plays Ou Fan Fan, aged 27 (yes it matters enough to be highlighted in the movie), who with her thick glasses, transforms herself from usual glamour puss to ultimate geek with Calamity Jane tendencies. Her inexplicable nervousness when touched by men, makes her all frigid, and Hark decides to make this condition very slapstick ridiculous. Yearning for a man long gone, and with her inability to attract new ones, she goes on a research experiment to design pheromone patches that can chemically induce the right man to be drawn toward her. Think of it as an airborne Love Potion No 9.

Kitty Zhang plays glamour puss Tang Lu, 31, who oozes so much sexuality, that men cower in her presence, and worship even her fart (OK, so I made the last point up, but you get the drift). Having no friends as she inevitably makes their boyfriends/husbands/fiances ditch them for her, she's the alpha-feminist and succesful career woman who's out to prove that she has more talent than the size of her boobs (OK, so I made it up again just to spice up an incredibly boring story). The perennial case of looks not an issue in the corporate world, though she has some really dogged tenacity in fishing out for profit making deals, such as Fan Fan's patches, setting them on a collision course as she blackmails the latter into a contract.

And to round up the trio of female lead characters, Kwai Lun Mei stars as a 19 year old internet novelist cum amateur boxer cum indie band lead vocalist wannabe, who has an imaginary Japanese boyfriend to boot. I suppose this is an unorthodox a character as you can get, and of the three, she probably has the least screen time given the distinct lack of know how on what to do with this character, given her hands in so many pies.

The trio share limited scenes together, and for the most parts felt like having three different short films glued together as one. Supporting characters such as the rocker played by Stephen Fung provide that degree of separation between the leading ladies, otherwise they only come together at a hospital scene toward the end, and had a lot more to do at a restaurant and a music festival. Between all the three ladies, only Zhou Xun's character undergo some sort of internal and physical transformation thanks to her experiments in getting her out of her shell, and Zhou Xun's performance, which the other two look more like caricatures, especially Kitty Zhang's, though in a way much better than being a flower vase like in CJ7.

There isn't much to shout out about the movie, and given its run time of close to two hours, there are numerous moments where it actually could have been trimmed to save the audience from the unintended torture of watching how some supposedly female characters lead their contemporary love lives, but with a man, and Tsui Hark at that, at the helm that well, it becomes a misfire with nothing to show.


When a known film director leaves his comfort zone to venture into a new genre, there are bound to be raised eyebrows. Tsui Hark, best known for his action films such as "Seven Swords" and the "Once Upon a Time in China" series, has sought yet another new challenge with his foray into romantic comedy after trying his hand at mystery thriller "Missing" earlier this year. The move may not seem too surprising for those familiar with Tsui Hark's career, since he started out as a comedy actor during the 1980s. To ease his transition, he has brought in Kwak Jae-yong, who directed the influential Korean romantic comedy "My Sassy Girl" as the scriptwriter.

"All About Women" brings together up-and-coming actresses, China's Zhou Xun and Kitty Zhang Yuqi, along with Taiwan's Gui Lun Mei as three entirely different modern Beijing women. We have the desperate endoscopic researcher Fanfan (Zhou Xun), the gorgeous businesswoman Tang Lu (Kitty Zhang) and the tough rock chick Tie Ling (Gui Lun Mei). Initially living separate lives, their fates become intertwined when Fanfan's experiments on pheromones (a chemical substance that influences the behaviour of the opposite sex) turn out to be so successful that she is able to make any man fall in love with her. Her smitten boyfriend (Stephen Fung) happens to be Tie Ling's bandmate, resulting in Tie Ling to bear grudges against Fanfan for causing him to neglect his commitment to the band. To add to the mess, the pheromones also have an undesired effect on Tang Lu's not-so-pretty subordinate who is supposed to clinch a business deal in Tang Lu's own experiment to prove that beauty counts more than intelligence.

With a director who has his roots on comedy and a Korean romantic comedy specialist at the helm, one would naturally expect a lot from this film. True enough, the slapstick element which is the staple in Hong Kong comedies is definitely at work here, giving the film a cartoonish feel. It is not too frequently applied to the extent that one would think this as a Stephen Chow production, though the exaggerated gags leave the deepest impressions when the film ends. The pace is ridiculously fast, demanding that the audience pay close attention or risk missing any important plot points. As an attempt to show off Hong Kong's prowess in digital effects, one online chat scene has an interesting use of computer graphics. Is it a must for every Hong Kong comedy to have CG effects nowadays?

The film is a platform for all three lead actresses to degrade themselves in terms of their looks. Zhou Xun seems to enjoy playing a nerdish woman, but she still gets to have a makeover later in the film. Gui Lun Mei showcases her masculine side, especially when she boxes in a ring in contrast to her gentler side in Jay Zhou's "Secret". Both portray their roles convincingly well. Kitty Zhang has the easiest job of flaunting her sexy self onscreen that she still looks great even when smoking multiple sticks of cigarettes at once, but the delivery of her lines with her high-pitched voice can be a tad annoying at times.

Tsui Hark and Kwak Jae-yong seem to be content in playing it safe by relying on visual gags and the photogenic female leads to ensure the film makes it in the box office. Although the film is billed as a romantic comedy, it is severely lacking in romance. Amid all the chaos over pheromones which is clearly a plot device here, there is no warmth to be felt due to its aforementioned fast pace. Strangely, there are not that many romantic scenes to start with. Even when a romantic scene is on, it is handled rather swiftly with little effort in building up the emotions. The question of whether true love exists without the use of pheromones is posed, but the film is unable to send a clear message with its mixed answers.

"All About Women" appeals more to the lowest common denominator who wants some quick laughs and pretty faces to gawk at. Those expecting a touching and meaningful romantic comedy should better look elsewhere.

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