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Movie review

What Women Want

Remake offers no improvements to the women or what they want

By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / February 8, 2011

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If the movie in which Andy Lau plays a chauvinistic senior advertising executive who has a bathroom accident that allows him to hear all women’s thoughts sounds familiar, it’s because 11 years ago the same thing happened to Mel Gibson. Both movies are called “What Women Want.’’ Nancy Meyers wrote the original version, which argued, wittingly or not, that women are shallow and easy advertising targets. The Chinese remake, written and directed by Chen Daming and set in Beijing, suggests that the original is more interesting if only because it’s more appalling.

Like Meyers’s movie, the new version, which is sometimes called “I Know a Woman’s Heart,’’ concerns the rivalry between two executives that turns into romance. Lau is the man, Gong Li is the woman, and watching them flirt in conference rooms, offices, and cheesy montages is about as much as you could ask of two of Earth’s biggest movie stars. Even so, this is tedious junk that lasts many scenes longer than is right. He takes forever to come clean about his telepathy (aided by a cartoon butterfly fish); she takes forever to smell a rat.

There was no “Mad Men’’ when Meyers’s version opened in 2000. But a film even obliquely about corporate sexism (in the world of advertising, no less) requires a compelling woman, which both movies lack. In the original, Helen Hunt played Gong’s part, and the trouble with Hunt is that you never believed she would abide both Gibson — who, in her defense, has never been more charming — and the absurd campaigns. Her intelligence — and ours — is being insulted.

The Chinese version is thoroughly inoffensive. Gong relaxes into a role that asks only that she look incredible in businesswear and find Lau’s antics appealing. The hard work — OK, hardish — falls to him. He gets to sing, dance, and cross-dress. That’s enough to get you through a few minutes, not 116. An eternity is spent with Lau’s executive and his charismatic father and estranged daughter and with Gong’s executive and a cloying US-educated suitor.

“What Women Want’’ opened recently in Boston and in a few other cities. And while the handful of people scattered among the stadium seats laughed, only two of us managed to remain planted long enough to discover the laughs don’t last.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wesley_morris.

WHAT WOMEN WANT

Directed by: Chen Daming, adapted from a screenplay by Nancy Meyers

Starring: Andy Lau and Gong Li

At: Boston Common

Running time: 116 minutes

In Mandarin, with English subtitles

Unrated (some sweet semi-romantic stuff and Andy Lau in drag)

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