Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
Cast: Zhou Xun, Huang Xiaoming, Sonia Sui, Sie Yi Lin
Runtime: 1 hr 37 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Sexual References)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 27 November 2014
Synopsis: Most women know that flirting can sometimes be the most effective way to get what they want, especially when it comes to men. However, flirting is an art that takes talent, and isn’t so easy to come by for some… ZHANG HUI (Zhou Xun) has a crush on her fellow classmate, XIAO GONG (Huang Xiaoming). However, family pressure to succeed forces him to focus more on his studies rather than relationships, delegating Zhang Hui to the role of “just ? friends”. But Zhang Hui doesn’t give up that easily. After graduation she finds work in Shanghai in order to stay close to Xiao Gong. Matters are complicated, however, when Xiao Gong returns from a business trip to Taiwan with a new girlfriend, BEI BEI (Sonia Sui). Unable to admit defeat, Zhang Hui seeks the help from a college classmate and her group of friends that have mastered the art of flirting. Overnight, Zhang Hui’s appearance, demeanor, and silks of seduction improve dramatically. As Xiao Gong begins to take notice, their relationship begins to progress beyond being “just ? friends.” Never one to back down from a challenge, Bei Bei must plan a counter-offensive in order to maintain her girlfriend-status…
‘Women Who Flirt’ sees director Pang Ho Cheung take a creative sojourn from his Hong Kong-set dramas like ‘Aberdeen’ and comedies like ‘Vulgaria’ by engaging in some shamelessly commercial pursuits. Inspired by the self-help book ‘Everyone Loves Tender Woman’ by Loverman, this Mainland-based rom-com has a tomboyish girl Angie (Zhou Xun) pick up the tricks of flirting from a gaggle of female friends who call themselves the ‘Barbie Army’ in order to win the affections of her best friend Marco (Huang Xiaoming), whom she has always been secretly in love with, after he falls for a Taiwanese girl called Hailey (Tang Sui) skilled in the art of ‘sa jiao’.
Though Pang has personally penned this big-screen adaptation together with his ‘Love in the Buff’ collaborator Luk Yee-Sum and newcomer Zhang Youyou, his latest displays little of the witticisms that fans of his works – us included – look forward to. At least his maiden foray into Mainland filmmaking, ‘Love in the Buff’, retained his distinctive voice while staying within the safe zone of the notorious censors (remember the joke about the air stewardess or the music video Shawn Yue made to prove his sincerity to Miriam Yeung?); save for the occasional amusing references to Patrick Swayze’s ‘Ghost’ and Andrew Lau’s ‘The Guillotines’, this is indistinguishable from the crop of rom-coms that have become a staple of the Mainland box office, no thanks to a voracious appetite from the genre from audiences there.
Much of the humour is derived (and derivative) from gender stereotypes, or more specifically, that of women which men tend to gravitate towards. From taking every opportunity to showcase maximum cleavage to saying ‘I hate you’ in a mischievously high-pitched girlish pout to giving men the chance to feel protective over a woman, Pang up-ends each one of these manipulative techniques women supposedly use in order to get men to fall hopelessly head over heels. There is some fun to be had in watching these tricks of the flirting trade being outed for what they are, but the pleasures afforded by these jokes are shallow, fleeting and grow increasingly tiresome.
Thankfully, Zhou Xun’s spirited delivery ensures that their repetitiveness does not completely ingratiate. Her diminutive frame and husky voice don’t make her the prototype Asian girl for rom-coms, but that is precisely why she is perfectly cast in the role. When she casts doubt on her makeover consultants’ ‘one-two-five’ Tinder-ready selfies, you believe that her cynicism is genuine. When she eventually decides to tear into her ‘love opponent’s’ seductive moves, you’ll applaud her comebacks. Zhou’s screwball comic timing is impeccable, and her considerable charm is a huge reason why the movie remains lively and entertaining in parts.
If the humour is mostly silly and shallow, the romance is sadly artificial. Except for a couple of flashbacks which establish Angie and Marco as college buddies who shared much platonic banter and several playful moments together, there is little else that convinces just why Angie would be in love with Marco or why Marco is in fact in love with Angie as well but just doesn’t know it yet. Even more perplexing is how Pang rationalises the latter, which falls to some hokey premise about how Marco is in fact “gay” for having been brought up without a maternal figure and is therefore perfectly matched with the masculine Angie. Unlike Chun Jiao and Zhi Ming in Pang’s previous two rom-coms ‘Love with a Puff’ and ‘Love in the Buff’, you’ll be hard-pressed to believe that there is genuine affection in Angie and Marco’s relationship, or for that matter, that the pair make a good couple.
Like we said at the beginning, ‘Women Who Flirt’ finds Pang at his most ready-to-please, forgoing his usual sensibilities for a wholly commercial product that is certainly poised to do well at the Mainland box office. If all you’re looking for is a light, frothy and forgettable time, then you’ll find your share of disposable pleasures here; but anyone else looking for the Pang Ho Cheung of contemporary classics like ‘You Shoot, I Shoot’ and ‘Exodus’ would be advised to flirt with something else instead.
(Derivative and shallow, this occasionally funny rom-com sees enfant terrible Pang Ho Cheung at his most shamelessly commercial)
Review by Gabriel Chong