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April 14, 2011

All About Women

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NĂ¼ren bu huai
Tsui Hark - 2008
Tai Seng Region 1 DVD

One of my favorite films by Tsui Hark is his screwball comedy, The Chinese Feast. Leslie Cheung and Anita Yuen are expressively goofy as cooks in a competition, trying to come up with meals both unique and delicious. Unlike Tsui's martial arts movies with flying fists and feet, this film comes with verbal play, including jokes about other Hong Kong stars which flew right past me as a novice to Cantonese pop culture.

All About Women isn't as fast or as funny as The Chinese Feast, but it does have some visual gags, some of the best which recall some classic Hollywood films about romance. The story is about three women, all seeking romance with the right man, whose lives intersect at various points before coming together. One of the women, Fanfan, has discovered a way of creating stickers with pheromones that men find irresistible. Fanfan tests it on rock singer, Xiaogang, who has a volatile relationship with young singer-internet novelist Tie Ling, the object of adoration for nerdy Chiyen, the cousin to the spectacularly successful industrialist, Tang Lu, a woman never without a stream of male admirers.

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Two of the best visual gags are with Tang Lu, played by the gorgeous Kitty Zhang. Accidentally discovering her intense reaction to the pheromones of an environmental scientist, Tang Lu attempts not to breathe in any part of his aroma at his wedding by lighting up a handful of cigarettes to cover the smell, a comic nod to Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager. Even better is a scene of Tang Lu in a bridal dress, chased by hundreds of would be grooms, Tsui's own remake of the classic chase scene in Seven Chances with Buster Keaton pursued by hundreds of brides.

The filmmaker most recalled in All About Women is Frank Tashlin. Tashlin's best movies were about the minefield of relationships between men and women as well as commentary on romance amidst changes in technology and popular culture. There is also the love of sight gags and jokes at the expense of friends in the film industry, such as director Jacob Cheung as himself, undergoing a prostate exam. A friend pointed out a Youtube clip that was composed of shots of legs in Tashlin's movies. Tsui has several shots of legs, often for comic effect. In an early scene, Fanfan shows up for dancing lessons, immobile while her teacher literally drags her across the floor. As Fanfan, Tsui exploits Zhou Xun's flair for physical comedy, such as a scene in which she haplessly attempts to put on contact lenses, staring into the camera with crossed eyes.

The screenplay was written by Tsui with Kwak Jae-young, still best known for his own debut film, My Sassy Girl. The character of Tie Ling, ferocious in her sense of independence and periodic wrongheadedness is closest to the title character of Kwak's film. As Tie Ling, Kwai Lunmei fearlessly steps into a boxing ring with another woman twice her size, takes to the stage to improvise a rock song with reckless bravado and the declaration that she hates punk rock, and natters away to her invisible boyfriend, a famed Hong Kong musician, only to find herself totally unprepared when the real life star comes into her life.

As in some of Frank Tashlin's films, the set design is used as commentary on the characters. Fanfan's home is almost completely white, appearing even more clinical than the laboratory where she works. Somewhat analogous to Jayne Mansfield's famous stroll in The Girl Can't Help It is Tsui's traveling shot of Tang Lu's male employees blushing as she walks by. Tsui also makes use of animation and CGI to illustrate an internet conversation, as well as showing the many errant paths of the pheromones. Some may quibble with some of the philosophy of the characters, and only the foolish would expect narrative logic from Tsui Hark, but until I see something better, All About Women mostly succeeds in transposing Hollywood comedy from the mid Twentieth Century to contemporary Beijing.

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Posted by peter at April 14, 2011 08:45 AM