In all honesty, I can't say I was really clamoring for a remake of Nancy Meyers' "What Women Want." The original, made over ten years ago, starred Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt and was a fitfully funny exercise in slapstick mayhem and opposites attract romance. It seemed an unlikely choice for writer/director Chen Daming (who also takes a small cameo in the film) to adapt, but I guess the world needs love too. Originally titled "I Know A Woman's Heart," the DVD release has the good sense to reattach the familiar "What Women Want" moniker to drive interest in the international distribution. After all, familiarity with the original movie certainly can't hurt. For my part, I don't really see any need or reason to reinterpret the Gibson version. While popular and amusing enough, it's hardly the gold standard in the American romantic comedy genre. However, that being said, if you are going forward with the idea--at least this remake had the smarts to attach two of the most appealing matinee stars possible. Frankly, I'd watch Andy Lau and Gong Li in just about anything, so cast together--this becomes a no-brainer.
Lau plays an aging lothario, an advertising executive getting by on his charm and insincerity. While he thinks he has everyone enamored by his winning ways, he has little idea what women really think of him. Li enters the scene as his new boss and rival, and the two instantly clash in some expected comic set-ups. Feeling that the agency needs to get in touch with female consumers, Li has the brilliant notion for the male employees to try an assortment of feminine products to make them more aware of their intended audience. Hilariously, Lau tries everything (it's one of the movie's silliest and most successful bits of physical comedy) and, through movie magic, has an accident that causes him to start being able to hear women's thoughts. Sure, it's a high concept premise and the first half of the film is filled with over-the-top mayhem. Will Lau use his power for good or for evil? Will understanding women make Lau a better man? As you might expect, Lau's new talent brings him closer to Li. But can a budding romance survive the truth of Lau's newfound persona?
About half of "What Women Want" is overplayed slapstick, while the second half aims at light romance. It is an unevenness that is also in evidence in the original movie. Strangely enough, I never particularly believed our leads during the antagonistic section of the movie. But when things soften, the two share an easy chemistry. Lau throws his heart and soul into the physical comedy, I've never seen him so limber and eager to please. And Li seems misused at first, but starts to come alive as the film progresses. Tell me how this woman has been making movies for 25 years--she is still as young and radiant as ever! Ultimately, I did like the developing romance and tender moments. A huge added bonus is to get to see Lau perform a love song in English. It was my single favorite scene. Nothing in "What Women Want" will particularly surprise you from a plotting standpoint. It is, however, slight and enjoyable with a few big laughs. About 3 1/2 stars from me--but I'll round up for Li and Lau. And by gosh, if you put them in another movie together--I'll line up for that one too. KGHarris, 11/11.