Contributor; Derby, England

The dark side of mainland China's domestic film industry flexing its muscles on the world stage ('We can too compete') is when it takes Hollywood self-indulgence and refines it into something many times worse. Witness Eva Jin's Sophie's Revenge, where superstar Zhang Ziyi (The Banquet, 2046) tries her hand at daffy romantic comedy - the resulting disaster is an odious misfire on just about every level and a definite front runner for worst film of 2009.

Zhang (who also produced) clearly sees the film as some kind of glossy hybrid of Jeunet & Caro whimsy paired off with the mass-market appeal Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock used to have. The very first scene is a flight of fantasy, her eponymous artist imagining a television interview as wartime film noir interrogation.

Her doting public want to know what the inspiration behind her new comic 'The Love Handbook' was. Cue the film as lengthy flashback, where Sophie explains it originally began as the story of how she planned to win back her cheating boyfriend, but then things turned out differently.

Boy A (Peter Ho) meets Sophie; boy A cheats on Sophie with one-dimensional femme fatale (Fan Bingbing, Wheat, Shinjuku Incident); Sophie plots with boy B (Korean actor So Ji-Sub), who was dating the femme, to split their respective partners back up again but predictably Sophie and boy B begin to wonder if they'd be better off together.

This kind of flimsy cotton-candy can still work perfectly well on the big screen; the filmmakers can lean heavily on quirky, elaborate art design and knowing winks to the camera (Perfect Bride); try for more subtle arthouse scripting (Desires of the Heart); play on everyman sentiment (If You are the One)... but to put it bluntly, Sophie's Revenge fails on all counts.

The production design slathers everything in the kind of relentlessly glossy CG trickery and hackneyed visual idiosyncracies that even production-line Korean sitcoms are getting tired of by this point (coincidentally, mega-production house CJ Entertainment contributed a good deal of the money). It's neither appealing nor clever. Sophie and her two best friends clearly aren't pitched as realistic character studies, so on the one hand it seems unfair to criticise them for not having any kind of life outside the script, but at the same time there's nothing eye-catching or memorable about any of it even on the most superficial level. The script can't even manage competent internal logic (remember, Kung Fu Hustle is an outright fantasy but it handles its cartoon physics consistently). If we've already seen Sophie fall from a second floor window twice with no ill effects, why is one more time supposed to be such a big deal?

The narrative doesn't even try for subtle, where even something as blatantly, self-consciously odd as Perfect Bride managed some surprisingly winning moments of calm and emotional subtexts that weren't shouted from the rooftops. Sophie's attempts to wreck her beau's life and force him to come to terms with what he's missing should be a measure of her charisma in how much the audience sympathise regardless of how far she steps over the line - or even just a guilty pleasure. A Farrelly brothers comedy, maybe, or something with Ben Stiller. They only succeed in making her seem actively repellent, even outright mentally ill, like My Sassy Girl without Jeon Ji-Hyun, or the Zucker brothers grabbing the camera.

Zhang is a talented actress - 2046 was proof she's far more than mere eye-candy - but she simply doesn't have the presence to turn Eva Jin's pitiful script into anything worth watching, let alone a character the audience can legitimately root for. There's no opportunity to internalise anything, given there's plainly nothing to internalise, and the physical aspects are relentlessly contrived even when they're not horribly written.

Peter Ho and So Ji-Sub as the two trophy males are at least able to coast on their looks given they're objects of desire, but the unfortunate Fan Bingbing is utterly wasted as Sophie's rival Anna. With no opportunity to make an almost superfluous role her own she comes off as visibly bored for much of her screen time and her transcendent performance in He Ping's Wheat seems as if it came from a different person.

Other than the baseline competence required to put a movie together there's virtually nothing to applaud about Sophie's Revenge. It holds no appeal for anyone other than the starstruck, none of it comes close to any number of recent films from Japan or the golden years of the Korean Wave and China has done far better this year already. Artless, tacky, devoid of heart or subtlety and wildly unfunny it's nigh on impossible to recommend.

Sophie's Revenge

  • Eva Jin
  • Eva Jin
  • Ziyi Zhang
  • Bingbing Fan
  • Peter Ho
  • Ji-seob So
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Eva JinZiyi ZhangBingbing FanPeter HoJi-seob SoComedyRomance

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