This week on WTF ASIA, Zhang Ziyi stars as aÂ tormented and delusional womanÂ whoÂ embarks on aÂ deranged quest for violence and retribution. Itâ€™s a romantic comedy.
For free on Hulu.
Sophie is a comic book artist. Jeff is a doctor. Sophie and Jeff are engaged to be married. Jeff meets Joanna. Joanna is a famous movie star. Jeff dumps Sophie to be with Joanna.
Sophie goes off the deep end. She stalks the couple for a few days. This includes climbing the side of a building to look into Jeffâ€™s apartment, falling off, and then lobbing snowballs at the window. Then she starts hallucinating that Jeff is still around and becomes bedridden, probably as much from being out in the winter as from heartache.
Sophieâ€™s friends, Lucy and Lily, come to her aid. Well, they had apparently worried that Sophie had died after not hearing from her for a while, so they broke the door down. Lily, who is married to a wealthy man (with a wandering eye), brings in a few maids to clean up Sophieâ€™s messy apartment. Lucy, Sophieâ€™s agent, tells her to forget about Jeff. Of course, this leads to Lily getting on Lucyâ€™s case for being too â€œsmartâ€ to be able to maintain a relationship and the two start to argue as they always do while Sophie tries to ignore them. Finally, the argument ends with the Lucy and Lily telling each other to shut up. Aaandâ€¦back to the subject at hand. Lucy has heard that Joanna doesnâ€™t keep boyfriends for long, and had recently been dating some Taiwanese photographer. Lily says that Sophie should rescue Jeff from such a woman, but Lucy says that he is a lost cause and that Sophie will get over him in no time.
Sophie starts crying, not for herself, but for her mother. Sophieâ€™s father walked out on the family when she was very young, and Sophie believes that her mother put a whole lot of stock in Sophie landing a man. She cannot find out that Sophie got dumped or else she willâ€¦kill herself? At that point, her mother calls up to say that she will come over in a few days to prepare for the wedding. Sophie acts sicker than normal and attempts to stall her mother, though it is unclear if it worked. Letâ€™s assume that it worked. After she hangs up, Sophie decides that she will win back Jeffâ€™s love before the weddingâ€¦and then promptly dump him in front of everyoneâ€¦including her motherâ€¦who will faint. Lily does not approve; Lucy is in, but does not want Sophieâ€™s quest for revenge to derail her book project. Sophie thinks about combining the two, which Lucy is not quite on board with. Nevertheless, Sophie believes that she can come up with a scientific method for heartbroken people everywhere to use to win their exâ€™s back. And then dump him.
That night, she comes up with the theme for her first chapter: Be cool and forgiving. The next day, she goes to the hospital where Jeff works and sees him in the hallway, they have a heartfelt conversation where Jeff says thatâ€¦oh waitâ€¦no, thatâ€™s not Jeff; that is an elderly patient. Snapping out of her delusion, Sophie freaks out and creates havoc in the hallway. A nurse is about to sedate herâ€¦or give her some sort of drug, when Jeff comes to her rescue. At this point, Sophie is a blubbering mess, and her calm collected demeanor replaced by angry wailing. She leaves the hospital, having failed the step one.
Lucy invites Sophie to a Halloween party and Sophie goes, even though she said that she did not want to. Lucy introduces Sophie to Gordon, a photographer from Taiwan. It turns out, though, that the two had met briefly met before, and their encounters had left Gordon with the impression that Sophie was insane. For some reason. They try to avoid each other until Gordon notices that Sophie is getting very drunk and tries to calm her down. Around that time, Jeff and Joanna turn up. Sophieâ€™s costume allows her to hide from Jeff, but Jeff and Gordon seem to know each other. Sophie tells Gordon that Jeff is her ex.
Umâ€¦so, quite a bit of this scene revolves around some threads on Sophieâ€™s costume getting caught on a button on Gordonâ€™s costumeâ€¦and…umâ€¦I donâ€™t know if it will help to point out that this movie was written and directed by a Chinese-American womanâ€¦so, I will just skip this section and get to the part where Gordon tries to tell Sophie to get over Jeff. He also knows Joanna and says that she is not really a bad person. Sophie is not really feeling this, but she realizes that Gordon is the photographer that Lucy had mentioned the other day. Now she is interested, and tries to turn Gordon into a partner in a quest for revenge on both Jeff and Joanna. And then she vomits on him. Gordon does not seem to be interested.
Chapter 2: The Glorious Past. Sophie still has the keys to Jeffâ€™s apartment, so she sneaks in to try and hide photographs and other items of hers into Jeffâ€™s things. Unfortunately for her, Jeff and Joanna arrive. Jeff notices Sophie, but tries to hide her from Joanna. Joanna does not see her, though she does notice something that Sophie had left, and gets very upset. Meanwhile, Sophie escapes out the window, falls down again, and gets sick. Uhâ€¦success?
Joanna is still berating Jeff when Gordon tries to call her. Unable to talk to Joanna, Gordon calls up Sophie and invites her to his place. He asks her if she is still determined to break up Jeff and Joanna. She is. Gordon is still unsure if this is a good idea, but he decides to stick with her and hear her out, maybe to help her or dissuade her…or prevent her from destroying the entire universe.
Before I go on, I suppose that I should point out that not only is this film written and directed by an American, but there is a serious South Korean presence in the making of the movie. There is a Korean production company or movie financier, the actor play Jeff is a well-known Korean actor even though I saw no indication that Jeff was Korean, and there are a few Mandarin-language versions of Korean pop songs. I had no idea about this before watching it, and the sight of a Korean logo made me wonder if Hulu had made a mistake. Nope. I am not sure why the Koreans were involved in the first place, but maybe the Korean Wave was big enough to justify it.
Now, I am not going to go on to tell you that this is a good movie. Its protagonist is a mentally imbalanced woman and the movie both celebrates her insanity and laughs at her frequent humiliation. And these are not laughs like that bleak satire that was recently released; this is full-on goofball comedy. Her insanity actually infects the style of the movie, particularly early on. The very first scene is a daydream and there are times when it is difficult to tell whether the movie is showing one of Sophie’s dream sequences or simply taking a clean break from reality altogether. It is like a cross between Amelie and that other Audrey Tatou movie where she plays a delusional psychopath. Almost all of the characters are rather contemptible, at least on paper. Sophie’s two friends are pretty much defined by their love lives. Practically the only time that the female characters are not thinking about men or romance is when Sophie is dreaming about brutally murdering Joanna. There are hints that Sophie could actually be happy and productive if she just moved on with her life and stopped worrying about men. Being that this is a romantic comedy, however, I don’t have to tell how this movie ends; you most likely had figured out the basics several paragraphs back. One could argue that this movie is no different from all of those other shallow, cynically mean spirited, and socially regressive romantic comedies coming out of the West and the East. I would not be able to argue with that. So why did I like it? Simply put, I feel that Zhang Ziyi is great in it.
Now, you may know Zhang Ziyi from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Rush Hour 2, Hero, Memoirs of a Geisha, and that reallyÂ awfulÂ attemptÂ at banter with David SpadeÂ at that MTV Award Show.Â Zhang Ziyi is not necessarily one whom I would consider a great actress. I have seen her be good in some things, but for the most part, she is fine at best. Most of what I have seen from her has been in “wire-fu” martial arts movies and romantic dramas. The one comedy movie that I remember seeing her in was Rush Hour 2 and there was little funny about her character. I suppose that Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon had some comedic elements, but those were just elements and it was rather restrained. Here, there is no restraint. Zhang seems to be having a great time throwing subtlety to the wind and going all out. She hams it up big time, making the character of Sophie completely loopy without needing to give a knowing wink to the audience. This movie takes the cuteness of some of her romantic characters and the violent edge of some of her martial arts characters, and then just douses them with sugar.
There is almost a twisted logic to Zhang taking this role as, on paper, Sophie has some similarities to other characters that she has played. In practice, it is a complete surprise. You may hate it. Others loathe it. I find it delightful. I would not necessarily want her to go back to this well too much, but it was a fun experiment at the very least. Others liked it well enough for it to get a sequel…or a prequel, called My Lucky Star. It was also successful…and is on Hulu as well. I have not watched it…at least not yet. But it’s there.
So, I doubt that I have sold you on this movie, and that’s fine. But I enjoyed it, and that is all that I need. The tagline on the poster may ask whether it is madness or love. The movie may claim that it is love. I say that it is madness. Glorious madness.
Next Time:Â Twilight Gangsters (South Korea: 2010, approx. 110 minutes)
Time After Next:Â Parzania (India: 2005, approx. 115 minutes)