Cast as a high-strung career woman searching for the man who impregnated her after a drunken one-night-stand, Fan Bingbing gets to play around with her screen-goddess image in “One Night Surprise,” a racy screwball comedy from trend-setting mainland helmer Eva Jin. Remixing ideas from dude-centric Hollywood laffers like “The Hangover” and “Knocked Up,” but retooled for China’s distaff demographic, this date movie is at once sweetly whimsical and full of ballsy sexual wisecracks. Sleek filmmaking, dollhouse visuals and Fan’s international profile could parlay the pic into niche release overseas.
Having directed China’s prototypical romantic comedy with 2009’s “Sophie’s Revenge,” which made her the country’s first female filmmaker to cross the $16 million B.O. benchmark, the U.S.-educated Jin now places Fan squarely in the limelight in the role of Michelle, a 32-year-old ad exec who is by turns ditzy, waspy, plucky and vulnerable, contradictions that the actress embodies with aplomb.
“Sophie’s Revenge,” in which Fan had a supporting role, betrayed a bilious misogyny in the way its women tormented each other to get their man, and “One Night Surprise” is no less punishing toward Michelle, who habitually falls into holes, slips on her heels and slams her head against walls. But the film’s lightly comic tone also conceals a fair measure of insight into the social stigma facing single career women in their 30s (nicknamed “leftover women” in China), who are pressured to put their dreams on hold and marry for money; as noted by Michelle’s bosom friend, “Women’s worth is defined by how much men are willing to pay for them.”
At her Marie Antoinette-themed birthday bash, Michelle loses her head after a few drinks and wakes up disheveled in a hotel room. Forty days later, she discovers she’s pregnant and sets about finding the culprit. Michelle narrows it down to three suspects who turned up at her shindig: figure-skating teenager Jeb (Li Jingfu); seafood-sauce tycoon Tiger (Leon Lai, vulgarly dismantling his matinee-idol image); and her Harvard-educated Chinese-American boss, Bill (Korean-American thesp Daniel Henney, “The Last Stand”). Their confrontations provide ample opportunities for overdone slapstick and naughty sexual innuendo, but there’s also the matter of her incompatibility with any of them, poignantly addressing the harsh reality that she’s not exactly long-term relationship material in their eyes.
Michelle’s ploy to nail dreamboat Bill as the father of her baby give rise to CGI fantasy sequences that, as handled by onetime cartoon illustrator Jin, brim with imagination, whimsy and artistic virtuosity. Fan appears especially guileless and winsome, floating along in a bubble of wishful thinking, only to be cruelly yet hilariously humiliated. As a smooth-talking douchebag, Henney delivers a roguish turn, arguably his most charismatic yet; a scene in an elevator — in which he flirts with Michelle, only to make a louche retreat — reps a master class in comic timing.
Woven into these nonstop comic escapades is the romance proper: Michelle’s courtship by Tony (Hong Kong/Malaysian singer-composer-thesp Aarif Rahman), a co-worker seven years her junior. It’s clear that this caring, devoted hunk is purely a figure of wish fulfillment, but Rahman’s laid-back performance generates a mellow chemistry with the otherwise wired Fan. And although their characters’ relationship blossoms with a road trip paved with improbable contrivances, culminating in a Penang-set epilogue that’s obviously a promotional stunt sponsored by the Malaysian tourist board, the film still manages to end on a fizzy note.
Tech credits, especially Michael Bonvillain’s fluid lensing, are handsomely appointed, though the production design’s twee ornamentation and the crayon-colored visual palette will not be to everyone’s taste. Fan’s wardrobe loses points for its unruly collision of colors, styles and accessories.