Chinese remakes of American films, especially romantic comedies, have not had a great trail run. Only You with Tang Wei and Liao Fan disappeared without a trace and even the great Andy Lou and Gong Li couldn’t stop What Women Want from just existing. We’re now in the third round and the champ’s not looking so good. So can the golden girl of Chinese cinema, Shu Qi, save the remake of 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding?
Ga Jia (Shu Qi) works as the newly installed Editor in Chief of a Chinese fashion magazine (I know they say it but I forget to write it down) and is planning the magazine’s coverage of the Milan fashion show with her assistant when she gets a call from her best friend, Li Ran (Feng Shaofeng), to say he’s getting married in London and that he wants her to come and be at the wedding. She stops dead in her tracks and it’s then that we find out that she’s always had a secret affection for Li Ran and the idea of another girl getting her hands on Li Ran sends Ga Jia into a panic. She hops on the first plane to London (yes, leaving her assistant in charge), meets the handsome Nick (Rhydian Vaughan) on the plane there, lands, meets Li Ran and his fiancée Xuan (Victoria Song) and then tries to figure out just what the hell she’s doing here.
I’ve never seen the original film with Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett.so I had to look up the plot on Wikipedia. I’m pleased to say that spirit of the original film was adhered to, aping the original in some ways, charting its own course in others. Ga Jia is the glue that holds the cast and the plot together. She spends a lot of her time going over her earlier days with Li Ran, wondering if there’s something she could have said, done or intimated to make Li Ran notice her. She pines for him whenever he’s not in the scene and yet when around him she maintains a tomboy attitude with him. Lots of sardonic back and forth and manly hugs for each other. She has inner monologues that only burst out when she gets tanked on booze and then it’s some unfortunate who has to be near it. Shu Qi’s always been good at comedy but here, her ability to give a great performance hinges on what I call depression comedy. Tu Tu (to use Li Ran’s nickname for her) has to deal with Li Ran and Xuan making kissy faces, leaves, gets drunk, embarrasses herself in front of strangers, falls asleep, wakes up, meets up with the lovebirds, plots and end scene. For something so repetitive, it’s wonderfully effective. Shu Qi just runs with herself in every scene and that’s before Nick arrives into the film, properly. I’ll talk about that in a second. The other actors have to act with Shu Qi and not perform like they know how it’ll all turn out. So as Feng Shaofeng comes along with Li and Victoria Song is fleshing out Xuan, we see them change over time to Tu Tu’s presence. Li Ran just wants to have his friend here but as time goes on he thinks back to when she almost accepted his declaration of love. While for Xuan, she is in awe of Tu Tu as she’s heard from her fiancé about the mysterious girl in his life. Gradually, though, she and Tu Tu have a sisterly bond. Or, at least, she thinks there’s one.
This brings me to the best and worst thing about the film. When it’s actively plotting the doom of the couple, it’s brilliant. We get the wonderful daydream scene where she imagines Xuan having an allergic reaction, the scene where Tu Tu goes back and forth between the couple, feeding them bad advice and giving outright lies to what the one said to the other and the fantastic reaction from Shu Qi when the couple end up back together, more in love than ever before. She looks like she wants to puke. But then Nick turns up and then the film really kicks into high gear. Director Chen Feihong gets great performances out of Rhydian Vaughan and Shu Qi and their various giggling sessions as their characters plot to get Li Ran to notice Tu Tu works wonders. In a nice touch, the film reuses the “Say a Little Prayer for You” scene in the first film in a reception rehearsal and Nick and Ga Jia sparkle as the scene plays out. But as I said, there’s a downside to all this. The drama of Shu Qi performances as she remembers how she and Feng Shaofeng’s character came together over the years (growing up together, graduating college, living together, finding their own paths in life) is offputting against the outlandish comedy that happens in between. It’s almost as if the film’s director and writer couldn’t decide if the film is a comedy or drama and didn’t want to make a dramedy. So the film frequently has these moments of self-reflection on all the cast’s part which then end only to have a laugh out loud moment right after that. Which is a shame because the other great thing about the film is that the main location is set in London and the filmmakers really use their time in England’s capital to great effect, using locations to ground the characters in their scenes while showing that Chinese storytellers can set a film anywhere in the world and still make it feel local. Every time we find a new place to visit in the city, we see that it’s the characters who are the focus and we pay that little bit extra attention.
My Best Friend’s Wedding is a great showcase of Shu Qi and her ability to lead a comedic cast while allowing us to get to know her and why she’s doing what she does throughout the film. On the other hand, it frequently forgets what kind of film it is. In any case, it’s a nice waste of your time even if it doesn’t know how to be true to itself from time to time.