Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sophie's Revenge

After gaining international recognition in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,  Zhang Ziyi has gone on to make projects that consist of critically acclaimed films, box office misfires, and the occasional Hollywood blockbuster, turning in performances that are either truly memorable or downright forgettable. With the face of an angel and a smoldering gaze that underscores a raw sensuality, Zhang Ziyi has had relative success in roles as the femme fatale (The Banquet, House of Flying Daggers) but somehow always appeared inadequate in portraying characters which required a certain level of emotional and intellectual depth (Purple Butterfly, Forever Enthralled, Horsemen). Hers is a body of work that yields itself to mediocrity (Jasmine Women, Memoirs of a Geisha) and yet just when you're about to dismiss her as another pretty face, she'll turn around and surprise you as she did in Wong Kar-Wai's 2046.

The fact that her filmography includes movies like Rush Hour 2 and Princess Racoon only goes to show how  sought-after she's become [having worked with well-known directors], and that regardless of any shortcomings in her acting, what Zhang Ziyi  aims to accomplish is to diversify the roles that she play. 

When I was young, my mother told me a woman in love is foolish but a woman rejected is crazy...

In Sophie's Revenge, Zhang Ziyi in the titular role Sophie, is a kooky cartoonist who was unceremoniously dumped by her surgeon fiancé  Jeff (So Ji-Sub) for actress, Joanna (Fan Bing Bing). Heartbroken and humiliated, this Sophie resorts to braving the cold and clinging on to ledges just to spy on her ex. Tortured by memories and severely defeated after watching the happy couple [yes, stalking will do that to you],  Sophie ends up sulking for days until her friends (Ruby Lin and Yao Chen) intervene and tell her in no uncertain terms to start over by drowning her sorrows in work. Jumping at the chance to publish new material, Sophie decides to exact revenge and make use of her experience as the basis for her "Love Handbook". She then sets this plan in motion by formulating a step-by-step program to win back her fickle ex, implementing steps one and two of her strategy to disastrous results.

 My mother also said, men must choose the right career; and women marry the right guy. What she meant was a woman's job is to find Mr. Right.

Devastated over back-to-back failures, Sophie attends a Halloween party with her friends where she gets rather drunk and disorderly. There, she meets Gordon (Peter Ho), a photographer, whom she discovered that Joanna rejected in order to be with Jeff. In her drunken stupor, she enlists Gordon's help, believing that their combined efforts would increase the odds of orchestrating a break-up. Will Sophie finally get her revenge? Better yet, is Zhang Ziyi even up to the challenge [of doing a romantic comedy]?

Writer-director Jin Yimeng's vision of Sophie's Revenge appears to stem from a patchwork of  popular romantic comedies, drawing its main premise from the Meg Ryan movie Addicted to Love and ripping off key elements in Jean Pierre Jeunet's Amélie.  Touted as China's first contemporary romantic comedy [ergo chick flick], this joint-project from Beijing Perfect World Co. and Korea's CJ Entertainment, along with  Zhang Ziyi's financing, has a production value that could easily rival the best that any country has to offer, with a bright, candy-colored palette [think jellybeans] courtesy of cinematographer Amando Salas and state of the art computer generated effects. It's gorgeously shot with a cast that wears trendy clothes and takes pretty pictures but judging by style and content, Sophie's Revenge has nothing wholly original to offer.

As romantic comedies go, Sophie's Revenge follows a foolproof formula that's designed to delight those in search of shallow, mindless entertainment. It's chic and trendy, furthermore it makes no attempt to hide the fact that it was designed to appeal to a broader audience and should therefore exhibit a fresh, young vibe. So much so, that the film itself is devoid of any cultural identity and pays no homage to any nationality, almost as if it exists in a homogeneous society, oblivious of the long list of well-loved movies that are defined by a specific heritage and/or made more romantic because of a certain locale (i.e. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, When Harry Met Sally, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Far and Away, Joy Luck Club, etc). By existing in a vacuum, it kind of loses its heart; and by trying too hard to appear Westernized, it simply doesn't have that spark. This movie doesn't have that ability to create a niche for itself in order to tap into a person's consciousness primarily because the viewer is struck by this strong sense of déjà vu-- such that everything you see in it has already been done before, only it was done better.

It's a perfect example of a movie wherein style got the best of substance as the storyline remained wafer thin and the characters turned out to be no more than broad sketches that evoked little or no empathy. Jin Yimeng's ode to the talented and eccentric woman comes off as as an ode to the severely neurotic, with Sophie being a decade-late, pale and inferior imitation of David E. Kelley's Ally McBeal.  Equipped with a hyperactive imagination, Sophie is gawky and awkward, more so, desperate and superficial as she  doggedly subjects herself to consecutive acts of idiocy. It takes quite a long while for her to even remotely look normal and that, I'm afraid, is severely overshadowed by zany sequences and disturbing hallucinations that would earn anyone entry to the nearest mental institution. As a movie that claims to celebrate the modern  Chinese woman, its female characters seriously lack depth. They're flighty and irrational, and they seem to be used to living a life of excess.

Much of the comedy is lifted from half a dozen other films (Two Weeks Notice, My Best Friend's Wedding, America's Sweethearts to name a few) but lumped together, all the token comic sequences  turned out  unfunny and uninspired. So Ji-Sub barely registers on screen as he struggles to phonetically enunciate his Mandarin lines while the sultry Fan Bing Bing is left to make the best out of an otherwise thankless role. Peter Ho is quite decent but considering that his character is the only one that's sane doesn't make that much of an accomplishment.

You need a psychiatrist.

And what about Zhang Ziyi, you say?

Well, she stumbles, she falls, makes faces and does just about everything in her power to elicit a laugh that  I myself, am embarrassed to watch. While Audrey Tautou's Amélie was full of  childlike wonder, Zhang Ziyi's Sophie was plainly unstable, possibly even mentally deranged. She does not lend herself well to physical comedy as she does to choreographed martial arts sequences so slapstick comedy might not be the right way to demonstrate her versatility as an actress. To be blunt, the girl just  doesn't have what it takes to be funny. Her desire to expand her three expression arsenal which consists of: #1. a come hither stare; #2. a prepare to die glare; and [my personal favorite, which is a lethal combination of the previous two expressions--] #3. the black widow eye (which loosely translates to "I'm horny so you'll die later"), is a goal that fell out of reach when she decided to do a movie without any distracting sharp weapons and fancy costumes. She doesn't have the acting chops to make an unlikeable character likable because her appeal and charisma always came from playing characters who were by nature cold and inaccessible. To go against that without adequate preparation is pure hubris on her part. Here's to waiting for expression #4. 


  1. ^ LOL @ "waiting for expression #4"! XD Reminds me of Zoolander and his "arsenal" of patent killah model poses -- Blue Steel, Magnum and Le Tigre. Hahaha. *fond tear @ Zoolander memories*

    I loved Zhang Ziyi in her wuxia film roles (Crouching Tiger, Hero, Flying Daggers), she was so exquisitely deadly and vulnerable and tragic and all those lovely things. I guess she didn't want to be pigeonholed so she took on this project, not knowing these types of Screwy/Quirky Heroine characters are among the hardest to pull off. It's like, when done well these roles can be GREAT (Ally McBeal! Amelie!) but they have as much trainwrecky potential when the writing/direction/acting are not up to snuff.

    Nice write-up! Now I feel like I actually got to see and experience the movie myself! (lolz) =D

  2. Haha, nice to hear that I got you curious enough to give this movie a try. It's a must-see for Zhang Ziyi fans and an interesting specimen of Chinese cinema and where it's headed.

    I liked Zhang Ziyi best in "The Banquet" but I myself have to admit that her acting hasn't improved that much in her decade-long career. Even her beauty is overrated since she looks rather plain next to Gong Li and Fan Bing Bing... but I do love the fact that she tries (even with her Zoolander limits and all). :D

  3. lmao @ Zoolander references xD

    Oh dear ZiYi... she is exactly the reason why I haven't touched this movie yet.

    My favourite performance from her is still The Road Home- pure & unadulterated. She was alright in CTHD but everything else I've seen her in (& for some reason, I have seen aplenty... I def give her credit for knowing how to choose her leading men ^^;;) I've just wanted to slap that pout off her porcelain pretty face >_<"

    Is Ji Sub's Mandarin as entertaining as say, Yamapi's English? lolol

    P.S. I think Fan Bing Bing is the total hotness as well!

  4. Yikes, I totally forgot about "The Road Home". She was so cute in that one, especially the part where she runs after the teacher clutching a bowl of dumplings. She looked so innocent then. Now we get pictures of her on the beach without her top on, accompanied by her (latest) rich, foreign boyfriend. Ehehehe.

  5. ^ Omo, I saw those beach pics. ZZY looked like she could fit inside her Euro-beau's hairy chest or something. *shudder* Why can't she be with somebody normal, like Takeshi Kaneshiro? lulz

    Haven't seen The Banquet or The Road Home (but I think my sister loved that one). But I saw her in the Korean love-trianglish wuxia-ish film Musa (The Warrior) starring hotties Jung Woo-sung and Joo Jin-mo, not that anyone saw that movie, lol. 2 hours of red dust and greasy ankle-length hair ('coz Jung Woo-sung's a slave, but he's a lovah not a fightah, see) = very MEHHH @_@

    LOL @ Ji-sub's Mandarin = Pi's English!!! (So LMAO-random ^^;)

  6. I agree E.G. Those pics... they just looked wrong. Guess we're not big fans of big hairy guys. Lol. X)

    I actually rented Musa (back in the day when there were video rental stores) and pretty much all I can remember about it is the red dirt and strong gusts of wind. She was a princess, right? And she was supposed to be sent back to China or something. Anyway, it's supposed to be a hit in Korea but it never really struck me as something special... I can't for the life of me recall anything else about it.

    As for Pi and Ji-Sub, their attempt at speaking another language is just priceless. ^^

  7. ^^Hmm, I haven't seen those pics but from your responses I am def not going to be googling them in a hurry >_<;

    I love Musa! And not just because Jung Woo Sung looked insanely good w/ dirt all over his face (I did chuckle @ all the face-hidden-behind-hair posing though...) The fighting sequences were so raw & filmed so artistically. Def didn't think this was one of ZiYi's better roles either (if there is such a thing lol) because all she did was frown & pout (&frown & pout.)

    Oh, & dodge The Banquet (Daniel Wu in ancient period setting is lmao overkill^^;;)

  8. Aww, c'mon. Daniel Wu in a period costume playing the Chinese version of Hamlet? The angst and the white-mask (which he could've kept on since it wouldn't make a difference)... what's not to love? LOL. ^^

    As for Ziyi's performance, she does frown and pout, but I at least had nice costumes to look at. But you do have a point. I distinctly remember that close-up shot of her in the final scene from THE BANQUET and it was far from extraordinary. Bet we can even take a screencap of it and find an identical expression from half of her movies. Heck, it'll even look like the one on top of this post.