By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
I don’t remember seeing Zhou Xun before this film, and that’s too damn bad. If more romantic comedies had her resilient persona and steadfast sense of humor, moored with her huge, questioning eyes, I’d watch more romantic comedies.
“Women Who Flirt,” directed by Pang Ho-Cheung, manages its triumph over rom-com clichés with wit, pluck, nonstop action, and the leavening of humor. But without Zhou Xun the whole would suffer a large hole, in the middle.
Cliché, or formula if you prefer, dictates that the couple at the film’s center must endure trial and tribulation before finally settling down together for the big finish.
“Women Who Flirt” toys with expectations a bit, since its couple is already together. That is, they’re old friends from college days who settled into working together. Whether they’ll find the love that formula demands, remains an open question.
The flashback sequences to Zhou Xun and male lead Huang Xiaoming in college, seem deeper emotionally than the present-day comedy.
Zhou Xun plays a defiant tomboy who dies her hair white-blonde, pops a backwards baseball cap on top of that, and goes nowhere near dresses or skirts, preferring pants and shirt. Huang Xiaoming, in thick-rimmed glasses, makes an appealingly nerdy hunk. The two spend all of their time together, studying, pranking each other, roaming the city at night, and being each other’s best friend.
Ah yes, the “friend zone.” To find the woman, rather than the man, trapped in it, makes for another theme variation.
Zhou Xun wants her best friend to be more than her best friend, but her tomboying, for this wish at least, went too far. Huang Xiaoming considers her a “dude,” and means that as a compliment—a woman who is enough like a man that she doesn’t register as a woman. This is the ditch Zhou Xun must crawl out of.
She gets advice from a coterie of woman about her age, maybe a little younger. They’re all eager to help, but each is convinced that she and she alone holds the secret to landing a man. They’re frantic and giggle-inducing, but sometimes their messages get lost in their nattering.
It doesn’t help that Huang Xiaoming has a girlfriend hanging on his arm—a vacuous, conniving young lady who holds onto her catch because she can. (The competition must be truly spiteful; that’s another rom-com feature.)
Zhou Xun learns as best she can.
She’s learned to wear women’s clothes since college, so that helps a bit. Her new friends advise her on clothes, demeanor, and even furnish advice about sex. She appreciates their help but to her credit, I think, she’s never inwardly relinquished her tough, independent mindset. She wants to do her things her way, and her way does not involve turning dainty, delicate, helpless, or passive-aggressive. The other ladies see passive-aggressiveness as a valuable tool in their toolbox.
I should say a few words about Huang Xiaoming, who after all has to carry his half of the action. With the nerd glasses on, he seems quite different than without them (his character’s presumably switched to contacts since college), but with the unspooling minutes he shows how he, too, hasn’t changed inwardly—he’s just clammed up about who he really is and stopped thinking about what he really wants.
Zhou Xun will have to claw him open, like an oyster.
Will she succeed? I’ll only give you one hint; the Hollywood film “Ghost” figures in the finale. For once, when it comes to romantic comedy, I can advise you to go and see for yourself. ■
“Women Who Flirt” is currently playing at the AMC Pacific Place Theater, 600 Pine Street in downtown Seattle. For prices and showtimes, check local listings or call 1.888.262.4386.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.